January 31, 2016

read with us: a book you can read in a day

As it's January 31st, it's time to tell you about the books we read for the 2016 MMD reading challenge! Unfortunately, Steph didn't have time to get her book read (because we didn't tell her about the challenge until last week), but our mom did, so she's going to jump in in Steph's place.
Our books this month are Bird Silence, The Little Prince, and The Wedding Chapel.

Bird Silence by Matthew Roth
Susan (Mom) says:
My cousin, Matthew Roth, has published this slim volume of his poems. Having never read it, I decided it was the perfect book for the first challenge.

I have always loved poetry...I had a real love affair with Rupert Brooke poetry when I was in high school, but that is a story for another day. I enjoyed reading Bird Silence and definitely enjoyed some of the poems more than others.

"Calling" was my favorite, with a sweet section about a young boy, "not yet two" who is quietly calling out from his room in the still-dark of the early morning his "tiny sing-song liturgy." His father hears and goes to "swoop down on him, whispering his own name in return."

While not everyone will enjoy Bird Silence, it is a worthwhile read for poetry lovers.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Val says:
I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, published in 1943.  This is a book you could definitely finish in a day, probably in an hour. It is short, there are lots of illustrations, and the print is big. So this is an easy way to up your “have-read” count for 2016.

The basic plot is that a pilot crash-lands in the desert, and it is here that he meets the Little Prince.  Although apparently human, the Little Prince is not from earth – he is from a planet whose name is never given, but we do know it is as small as a house, and the Little Prince is essentially its caretaker – pulling weeds (a necessity on such a small planet, for were he to let them grow too big, their roots would pull the planet apart), raking out the volcanoes (very small volcanoes, and only two are active), and tending to the flowers.  One flower in particular is very fickle and vain, and while he loves the flower, and she loves the Little Prince, a misunderstanding with her causes him to decide to leave his home and explore other worlds. The Little Prince visits several worlds before landing on earth.  The pilot grows to love the Little Prince, for he reminds him what it is like to live with the heart and eyes of a child, something the pilot longs to do again.  One of the main themes of the book is the way a child’s logic is often much simpler, cleaner, and far more magical than an adult’s mundane explanations of the world.

While technically a children’s book, I think it would have more of a lasting resonance with adults.  There’s a sense of wistfulness and longing throughout the book – the Little Prince longs to return to his home and his flower, the pilot longs to return to who he was and the things he loved as a child.  I can distinctly remember thinking as a child, “Why don’t grown-ups understand kids? When I’m a grown-up, I’ll remember how I feel right now. I’ll still get it.” Fast-forward 20 years to me now, stymied every week by the actions of the kindergarteners I corral on Wednesday nights…

This was one of those books I am glad to have read so I know what it is about. It did capture my attention, and it made me think about who I was as a child vs. who I am now. I would say it is worth reading at some point in your life, but I wouldn’t call it a MUST READ.

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck
Becky says:
I read The Wedding Chapel in one afternoon--the first Saturday in January, which was also my last free Saturday for eight weeks, thanks to my speech meet schedule. At 368 pages, it's not a book that everyone could read in a day, but it is a very quick, easy read. I chose it because, well, I happened to read it in a day, and with speech starting up, I knew I wouldn't have much time for "extra" (beyond my book reviews) reading.

The Wedding Chapel is a dual timeline story, taking place in the 1940s-50s and in the present. Jimmy Westbrook fell in love with Colette Greer the moment he first saw her picture. Their romance seemed picture perfect until wrong choices, jealousy, and misunderstandings drove them apart. Taylor Branson, Colette's grand-niece, connects with Jimmy when she is hired to photograph the wedding chapel he built for Colette decades earlier. She's having a bit of a romance crisis of her own--she married Jack, her high school crush, soon after reconnecting with him in the city, and their marriage is on rocky ground. As Jimmy, Colette, Taylor, and Jack's stories intertwine, secrets are revealed and healing finally occurs.

While many romance novels are mere fluff (and believe me, I do enjoy fluff!), The Wedding Chapel has a depth to it that makes the story rich and fulfilling. The four main characters, while not always likeable, are wholly fleshed out and completely interesting. It's the kind of story that keeps your attention and touches your heart. This is a beautifully romantic and compelling novel about secrets, sin's consequences, family, and redemption that will stick with you beyond the final page.

I would recommend The Wedding Chapel to anyone who enjoys inspirational fiction--it's one of the best novels I've read in a long time! (Of course, I also reviewed it on my book review blog. You can read the review here.)

Are you doing the reading challenge? If so, tell us about your January book in the comments--or leave a link to your blog post about it!

Next month, we'll be reading a book chosen by a relative. I chose Val's book, she chose mine, our brother Andrew chose Steph's, and Steph chose Mom's. We'll check back in with you on February 28. Until then, happy reading!

January 26, 2016

read with us: mmd's 2016 reading challenge

About a year ago, my sister Val introduced me to Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne (or MMD, as we like to call her) blogs about a lot of things, and one of those things is books. So of course I like her!

Last year, Val participated in MMD's 2015 reading challenge, and this year, our sister Steph and I have decided to join her. Each month, we'll read a book from the same category, and then we'll share our thoughts here on the blog. At the end of the post, I'll tell you which category we're doing the following month, so you can join in if you'd like. (You can read all about the reading challenge here on MMD's site.)

I haven't made all my picks yet, and some I don't own, but here's a glimpse at a few of the books I'll be reading this year.

Now, I want to introduce you to my sisters. I've talked about them repeatedly, but here they are in brief:

Val came into my life when I was six years old, at a time when I desperately wanted a little sister. Unfortunately, said little sister didn't desperately want me. I adored her; she kind of hated me. That love-hate relationship continued basically until we were both adults (and trust me, the love-hate went both ways!); we didn't truly become friends until she was a senior in high school ... and now I can't imagine life without her!

I also like to take credit for her marriage to the love of her life. If I hadn't chosen Grace after finding it online (still an unusual way to find a school back in 2001), she probably wouldn't have chosen Grace herself or moved back there a few years after she graduated ... and then she wouldn't have met Greg. You're welcome, Val.

She and Greg adopted an adorable furball named Chloe last summer, and we enjoy swapping cat stories. All. The. Time.

We share a passionate love for reading, though our tastes are wildly different ... so you'll get a look at a wide variety of books through this series!

Three years after Val came along, Steph arrived ... and she did like me! Needless to say, I spoiled her. Shortly after her arrival, our mom took a secretarial job, so basically, I became Steph's second mother. We definitely had rocky times, too ... but things got vastly better after I returned home following college. (Maybe the problem was me???)

Steph did not follow us to Grace--she chose a different Grace! (Which is where our parents met. So out of our immediate family, my brother is the only one to not attend a school named Grace.)

Steph graduated last spring, and she works in insurance. She also writes a wicked-hilarious Bachelor recap on her blog, The Singing Barista.

One of Steph's passions is baking--if you live in the Omaha area and need someone to make amazing cupcakes, she's your girl! (Unfortunately, I can't eat anything she bakes anymore--maybe one day I'll get her to experiment with gluten free baking!)

Steph and I have very similar tastes in movies and TV shows (I'll always fondly remember the summer of Dawson's Creek), but I honestly have no idea what books she reads, so it'll be fun for me to see what she chooses!

I know it's late notice, but our January category is A Book You Can Finish in a Day. Join in if you'd like, and I'll be posting our thoughts on our books on Sunday!

January 22, 2016

five friday favorites #21: week of jan. 22, 2016

It's Friday!!! I'd be more excited if it was a Friday in March and I didn't have to get up at 4 a.m. tomorrow for a speech meet, but such is life. Let's get on with the favorites!

1. Peanut Butter Cookies

You've probably seen those flourless peanut butter cookie recipes floating around. You know, the ones that are just peanut butter, sugar, and an egg? Right after I went gluten free, I made them a lot. And now that I've successfully reintroduced peanut butter, I decided to try them again. (I know, I know--peanut butter isn't paleo. I. DON'T. CARE. My goal has always been to be healthy and eat more natural foods--not be paleo.) The cookies were good, but I had a feeling they could be better. After some experimenting, I think I've landed on the perfect combination: natural peanut butter, coconut sugar, egg, baking soda, vanilla, salt, and chocolate chips. These cookies come out perfectly crispy on the edges--just like my mom's gluten-filled peanut butter cookies. So delicious! (Recipe to come soon.)

2. Spotify's Discover Weekly Playlist

If you have a Spotify account and haven't checked out your personal Discover Weekly playlist, you're missing out. Not only has this playlist introduced me to some great new music, but it's also hilarious at times to see just how off base the songs can be. For example: The very first week, a song by Alan Jackson was in the playlist. Um, really? Alan Jackson is country country. Spotify should know by now that I only ever listen to pop country ... and even then, it's a rarity. Or this week, when there are two wedding songs in my playlist. Sure, I'll listen to a love song now and again, but wedding songs? They kinda make me want to puke ... probably because of my perpetual singleness.

Still, I love checking in on my new playlist each Monday morning when I get to work. I'm sure you'll enjoy your playlist, too.

3. DC's Legends of Tomorrow

First off, let's be honest--is anyone going to call this show by its full name? No. It will just be Legends of Tomorrow.


Legends of Tomorrow premiered last night, and I loved it. It features characters introduced on The Flash and Arrow, and it looks to be a rollicking good time. Not sure if you'll like it? The pilot is free on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes for a limited time. If you do check it out, I'd love to know what you think!

4. That Gal ... Who was in That Thing

A few years ago, I watched a fascinating documentary on Netflix called That Guy ... Who Was in That Thing. (Unfortunately, it's not longer on Netflix.) It's about character actors and their quest to make it in Hollywood. Now, a follow up film has been made, this time featuring women. I watched it last weekend during a free Showtime preview on Hulu. It's just as captivating as That Guy, if not more so. The women discuss the struggle to get cast as anything but a grandmother as they age, the difficult choices they had to make regarding family and career, wage inequality, and a variety of other things. I'd definitely suggest checking it out if you get the chance! (If you have Amazon Prime, you can add a Showtime subscription for $8.99/month, but you get a 7-day free trial. I did that with Starz and watched a ton of movies over Christmas break--you just have to remember to cancel!)

5. I Hope You Dance by Beth Moran
This week's book recommendation is the delightfully charming I Hope You Dance by British author Beth Moran. I read Moran's Making Marion in 2014, and it was quirky and humorous. I Hope You Dance is even better.
I Hope You Dance is, in a word, delightful. While Ruth deals with serious issues like debt, stalking, teenage rebellion, and family drama, the story never feels heavy. I think much of this is due to the supporting characters--colorful women who stand by Ruth's side through thick and thin and whose personalities bring joy and humor amidst the drama. These characters are so vividly drawn that I felt as though I knew them.
You can see the rest of my review here.

Thanks for stopping by! I'm linking up with the usuals: Erika, Karli, and April.

January 15, 2016

five friday favorites #20: week of jan. 15, 2016

Welcome to another Friday Favorites! It's been a while... Here's what's making me happy this week!

1. This gif from the Golden Globes

I don't know how many times I've watched it, but it cracks me up every time!

2. Justin's Maple Almond Butter
Since I have now successfully reintroduced almonds (insert round of applause here), and I'm desperately in need of food to eat at speech meets, I decided to try Justin's Almond Butter.

Best. Decision. Ever.

It's pricey, but it's oh so good. (I get mine at Walmart; you can find it for just a little more at Amazon.)

I also bought a 12-oz jar that is slightly less expensive per ounce, and it's become my go-to afternoon snack at work. Delicious! (Not sure why I had to "reintroduce" almonds? See my posts here and here.)

3. Fuller House teaser trailer

This is easily the most fun thing I saw today. I am so excited for Fuller House!

4. Dark Matter
If Firefly and Stargate had a baby, it would be Dark Matter. I tried this Syfy show on a whim and ended up powering through all 13 episodes in just a few days. The premise is that six people wake up from stasis on a spaceship with zero memories of who they are or why they are on the ship. Throughout the first season, they try to discover who they are, all while frequently fighting for their lives. I'm definitely looking forward to the second season! You can watch Season 1 on Netflix.

5. The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck
My first read of 2016, The Wedding Chapel was everything I hoped it would be and more. Here's some of what I had to say:
While Hauck's recent releases (the Royal Wedding series, which I loved) have been a bit on the fluffy side, The Wedding Chapel has much in common with her wonderful The Wedding Dress. There's a depth and realism to The Wedding Chapel that I found wholly satisfying. This is a beautifully romantic and compelling novel about secrets, sin's consequences, family, and redemption that will stick with you beyond the final page.
I highly recommend this excellent book! You can see the rest of my review here.

Thanks for stopping by! I'm linking up with the usuals: Erika, Karli, and April.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

January 6, 2016

"the bachelor" hits home ... sort of

Are you a fan (or hate watcher) of The Bachelor franchise? While I'm not a die-hard, can't-miss-an-episode fanatic any longer (thanks to Juan Pablo, Chris Soules, and Kaitlyn Bristowe for curing me of that), I still enjoy the show. And this season, my interest is just as high or higher than it was for Sean Lowe's season--and that's saying something, friends!

The reason? Well, you could guess that it's because Bachelor Ben Higgins is attractive and seemingly one of the good guys--and you'd be partially right. But the biggest reason for my interest?

Ben's hometown of Warsaw, Indiana.

Some of the best times of my life took place in and around Warsaw, or with people I met there. My college, Grace, is located in Winona Lake, a little town basically surrounded by Warsaw. My sister Val and her husband live in Warsaw now, and I still have friends in the area.
With two of my favorite college people, Jen (left) and Jodi (right) at the Warsaw Hacienda right before Jodi and I graduated. Apparently, I left college without any pictures that would actually identify where I was ... probably because my college career took place in the dark ages before smartphones and social media.
When Ben appeared on Kaitlyn's season of The Bachelorette, I was excited to learn he was originally from Warsaw ... but then I read Reality Steve's spoilers (yes, I do read the spoilers) and learned that Kaitlyn would not be visiting the hometowns of her top four bachelors (as is usually the case), so we viewers wouldn't be getting a taste of Warsaw.

But then Ben was chosen as The Bachelor, and hope returned! Sure enough, they filmed scenes in Warsaw. I encouraged Val to go to the free carnival that production set up so I could live vicariously through her, but apparently it was completely nuts (and a puny carnival), so she didn't go. Anyway, I am super excited to see Warsaw on the small screen in the upcoming weeks!

So far, I've avoided this season's spoilers ... for the most part. I do know that Becca (Chris Soules' runner up) makes it at least to a certain point in the season, but I don't know how far she goes or who else might go far. That said, going solely off the bits and pieces of the premiere that I saw*, I like Becca and JoJo. And one of the Laurens, but I can't remember which one. Seriously, didn't it seem like every other girl was named Lauren?

Anyway, the whole point of this blog post was to point you to my sister Stephanie's blog. She's recapping the episodes, and she's pretty darn hilarious. Her recap of the first episode is here. Enjoy!

*I only saw the second hour of the premiere because Supergirl was on during the first hour. I love me some Supergirl, it's not available on Hulu, and I LIVE IN A WORLD WITHOUT A DVR, so I had some choices to make. 

January 2, 2016

top 10 books of 2015

I'm ahead of the ballgame this year--I got my top 10 reads of 2015 posted just two days into the new year! (In some years, the list has been published in February, so I'm doing really good to get it up today!) I had more difficulty than ever before in narrowing my list down to 10, so I ended up splitting my list into two: honorable mention and top 10.

Here are just a few of the books that made one of the lists:

Click through to see what other books I chose and which book I selected as my favorite read of 2015!

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