Monday, November 30, 2015

It's Monday and I'm getting a late start

Hi friends! I'm a little late to the "It's Monday" party this week. I feel like I haven't really been home since Thursday and we have spent a fair amount of time in the car with two kids. We had a nice Thanksgiving, we helped decorate at my parent's house, we had church on Sunday, and then took family photos with my husband's side of the family. The reading has not been so plentiful, especially because husband and I finished watching Jessica Jones this week.

My husband is in the running for sainthood and let me sleep in this morning while he got up and got our son out to the bus. Now I'm making a grocery list and trying to get back in the swing of things. There's lots of planning to do with all of the normal weekly stuff, Christmas planning, and a certain little boy in our house who will turn 8 at the end of this week!

Despite the crazy these past few days, I did I finish reading and reviewed Between You And Me and I think I will finish up A Curious Beginning later today.

                    Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell Mystery, #1)

This week, I am determined to finish reading Bonhoeffer. It's very interesting, but it's tough to find many long stretches to read right now! I also have Accidental Saints: Finding God In All The Wrong People out from the library. I guess I'm continuing Nonfiction November right into December!

                 Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy       Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Nonfiction November: Between You and Me

Mary Norris has been a copy editor at The New Yorker for more than thirty years. In that time, she has interacted with some (in)famous writers and editors and learned about the many steps that are necessary before going to print. Between You And Me is the story of her life from checking feet at a local pool (yes really) to becoming the beloved comma queen of one of America's most respected magazines. But Norris is not a stodgy grammarian detailing her life alongside the rules and regulations of writing. She brings joy and laughter to the sometimes bizarre standards of writing and editing and freely confesses her love of a good pencil and the occasional well-placed profanity.

I find that many great nonfiction books have a careful balance between teaching and humor. As a writer, Norris has a voice that is candid and fun. She loves what she does and it is evident that she enjoys talking with people about obscure punctuation and the frustration of referring to a group that includes both men and women. As someone who works as a freelance copy editor, I like to think that I know a few things about grammar. But Norris taught me so much about the reasons that we do certain things in the English language. She explains without making the reader feel bad about their lack of knowledge. English, as we all know, is a truly bizarre language. “Nobody knows everything—one of the pleasures of language is that there is always something new to learn—and everybody makes mistakes.”

Between You And Me is a book I would recommend wholeheartedly to so many kinds of readers - reader who are also writers, those who are interested in what happens behind the scenes of The New Yorker, reader who are nuts about grammar, and those who enjoy learning from a fascinating and funny teacher.

Between You And Me: Confessions of A Comma Queen
By Mary Norris
W. W. Norton and Company April 2015
228 pages
ARC from my shelves; won from Goodreads

Sunday, November 22, 2015

It's Monday and it's almost Thanksgiving!

This week feels like it was a million years long. Part of it had to do with all the craziness leading up to Thanksgiving, which includes an extra church service and a community dinner for us. It's also because a certain toddler has been particularly clingy the past few days and it has been difficult to get anything done without hearing a "Mommy? Mommy? I want talk to you!" I'm looking forward to some good family time this upcoming week with D having some days off from school, two of my sisters home, and Christmas decorating on the horizon.

This week, I read Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders. I'm still working through Bonhoeffer and now I've added Between You And Me to the mix.

I posted three reviews this week - Preston Yancey's Tables in the Wilderness, Sarah Bessey's Out of Sorts, and Julie Murphy's Dumplin'


What are you hoping to read over this Thanksgiving week?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Nonfiction November: Tables in the Wilderness

Preston Yancey knew what he believed. He had grown up going to church. His parents were gracious and supportive, showing him what it meant to have faith even in the midst of his mother's debilitating pain. By the time he went to college at Baylor University, he had already been on a missions trip and was sure that God was going to do awesome things with his life. But then he heard God speak to him - "It's going to be about trust with you." And then God was silent.

Preston Yancey is what is lovingly called a PK (pastor's kid). I also happen to be one. For many of us who grow up in the church, it is very jarring to be out on your own and discover that things you took for granted don't hold up anymore. Then the slow work of rebuilding begins. We pick a new version of the Bible or turn to the prayers of the saints for comfort. We visit a different kind of church until we find one where we feel accepted or read spiritual memoirs to remind us we are not alone in this wilderness.

This book moves back and forth in time. It begins at the moment that God went silent, and takes us through college classes, tearful church services, and whispered confessions to friends. Tables in the Wilderness is about learning to be comfortable in the silence, in not knowing all the answers about faith or God or what you are supposed to be doing with your life.

We all think we know everything when we are 18 and heading off to college. Yancey recognizes his own hubris and handles it with grace. The thing that really sets this apart from other stories of 20-something crisis is the beautiful writing. Yancey writes like a poet who just happened to be writing prose and brings clarity and beauty to phrases that would have been happenstance for a different author. Books and stories are incredibly important to this author, and they are present on every page. In fact, he writes about his father's statement that telling a story in and of itself is an act of worship. If that is the case, I'm glad Preston Yancey chose to worship by telling us his story and reminding us that we will not be in the wilderness of uncertainty forever.

Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again
By Preston Yancey
Zondervan September 2014
236 pages
From my shelves

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: Dumplin'

Willowdean Dickson has come to terms with being fatter than her peers...some of the time. It's not always easy with a thin and beautiful best friend and a former pageant queen mom who still works for the pageant each year. Will goes to work, goes to school, and just tries to live the normal life of a teenager. When a handsome co-worker at her job starts to take interest in her, Will's feeling of insecurity come out full force. Does he really like her? If he does, why are they keeping their relationship a secret from everyone else? In a moment of temporary insanity, she decides to enter the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant and prove to herself and everyone that she is just as capable and deserving of wearing a swimsuit, showing off a talent, and being seen and admired by everyone in her small Texas town.

Willowdean is a gem of a character. She is beautifully realistic. She makes dumb choices. She makes smart choices. She apologizes for her mistakes. She is hilarious. She is unsure about herself. While there is a romance in this story, the great thing is that Willowdean is not defined by her relationships. Having a crush or making a new friend or even seeing things differently than her mother does not change who she is. 

I sometimes look through some other people's reviews after I have finished a book to see if they loved or hated a book as much as I did. I was rather shocked to see a lot of readers railing against this book because Willowdean can be just as unkind to other kids as they are to her. As the book progresses, she gains some new friends in other girls who don't fit into the narrow box of "thin, gorgeous, straight, and able-bodied." And yes, at first, she is dismissive or mean in her head to those same girls. But I think we all do that. Even if Julie Murphy wrote Willowdean as "body-positive," it's not something that is perfect or consistent. She thinks that her body is great, except when she doubts it. She snickers at the perceived flaws of other students, but the point is that she does eventually befriend them. Being "body-positive" doesn't mean we don't notice what makes people different from us. It's that we don't let it define them or our relationships with them.

Dumplin' is a fantastic book. It's as funny and self-assured as Willowdean herself proves to be. This story reminds us that we are not what others think of us, whether we are teenagers or adults. In a world of seemingly endless cruelty, we need books like this to remind us to be kind to each other. It turns out we aren't as different as we might think.

By Julie Murphy
384 pages
Balzer + Bray September 2015
From the library

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Nonfiction November: Out of Sorts

Sarah Bessey is a writer of incredible grace and kindness. There are many books about the moment when someone becomes a Christian, but there are very few that deal with the changing journey of faith. It is easy to feel confident in our beliefs - we know exactly what we believe and why...until the day when things aren't so clear anymore. We find something that doesn't make sense or realize that we just don't believe a certain thing in light of our own experiences. Through Bessey's words, we see that our beliefs can change over time and we can be gentle with ourselves as that happens.

Throughout the book, Bessey compares faith to holding a rummage sale. As we sort through the pieces of our faith, we rediscover some things we had forgotten we had, but we also find things that no longer fit into our lives. There are chapters about every person's ability to ask questions and dive into theology, how we can and should keep reading through the portions of Scripture that make us uncomfortable, and finding beauty in the new and ancient practices of the church. In all of these things, she always brings the focus back to Jesus and His love for us. 

Bessey weaves together her thoughts about an evolving faith with her own story of coming to faith as a child, growing up in the church, leaving it for six years, and then finding her way back. She is honest about the pain she experienced and the mistakes she made.

Out of Sorts is a book of loving warning for the person new to faith about the trials they may face. It is also a reassuring message of solace for the person who thought they knew what they believed, only to find themselves in a spiritual wilderness. A faith that looks exactly the same for years is a faith that isn't growing. This is a normal part of our journey, despite its uncertainty. With gentle and kind guidance from people like Sarah Bessey, we are able to walk through it together with the knowledge that all will be well.

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with An Evolving Faith
By Sarah Bessey
Howard Books November 2015
272 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's Monday and we are in cleaning/sorting mode!

Hello again! How are you doing?

This has been a good week, although I feel like I could use a few extra hours of sleep. The husband and I are on a sort of cleaning/sorting/donating spree which is wonderful, but exhausting. It's going to be good to have some room to spare, especially with a certain little boy's birthday and Christmas coming up soon. We also finished Parks and Rec this week and we have a lot of feelings, mainly sadness.

This week, I sped though the delightful Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library and savored Sarah Bessey's new book Out of Sorts. There was a part of me that wanted to read a chapter a day and really think about what Bessey wrote, but there was another part that just wanted to soak up every word in one sitting.

                       Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library  Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith 

On the blog this week, I reviewed The Crescent Spy and I linked up with Nonfiction November to suggest fiction and nonfiction pairings.The little girl and I also reviewed Laurie Berkner's newest CD of songs for kids. If you are looking to add to your toppling piles of books, make sure to visit my giveaway for The Crescent Spy!

Now I'm reveling in Nonfiction November with Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer and making time for fiction too with Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders

                 Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders: A Novel

What are you reading this week?

Music Review: Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs

Twice a week, I make a long trek to work with BG in tow. She loves spending time with her Grammy while I work, but the hour long drive is not her favorite thing. It gets a little easier when we have great music to listen to on the way. We had listened to Laurie Berkner Lullabies before bedtime and when I wrote about how much we were enjoying The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band in the car, her publicist kindly sent us the newest CD.

I have to confess I was a little hesitant about this newest CD. Laurie Berkner writes really fun and inventive songs for kids, and I was worried that this album would be tired retreads of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the ABCs. But this album has more than 50 tracks on it. Some of them are songs you already know, but there are so many that were new to me.

Children's music can be repetitive and simple. It's easy to groan when your little one asks for the same songs again and again. But we've had this album on in the car for a few weeks now and I'm still happily humming along when BG asks to play it again. As someone who sings myself, I love the new arrangements of classics songs and the beautiful harmonies that are on almost every song.

It's also obvious on every track that Laurie and her fellow musicians are having a lot of fun. When singing There's a Hole in the Bucket, you can practically hear Laurie and Brady cracking up over suggesting to small children that they use an axe to cut a straw to fix their broken bucket.

Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs is a great album, full of new interpretations of old favorites and new songs for your little ones to love. BG's favorites are Wheels on the Bus and The Ants Go Marching (because she sings them in her class too) and Victor Vito. She often asks for "My Berkener! My Berkener!" Your little ones would be happy to find it under the Christmas tree and it is certain to become a favorite in your house.

music cds lbfcks
Thank you to Laurie Berkner and her publicist Elizabeth for sending us a copy of the CD!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Nonfiction November: Book Parings

As a part of Nonfiction November, we are pairing novels and nonfiction books that are perfect to read together. Here are my picks: 

            Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War  The Crescent Spy

I reviewed Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy in September of last year. When I read The Crescent Spy just last week, it immediately reminded me of Karen Abbott's nonfiction book. Michael Wallace's novel focuses on one woman who works as a newspaper reporter in New Orleans while sending information back to the Union. In Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, readers encounter four women. Two of them worked for the Confederacy and two worked were on the side of the Union during the Civil War. Abbott's book reads as easily as a novel, so it will feel like no work at all to go from one book to the other!

             The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York   The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)  

Flavia de Luce is one of my favorite literary characters. In the first book of her series, she is a precocious eleven year old living in an English village with her father and sisters. She just happens to also solve murders and be rather skilled with a chemistry set. One of her favorite pastimes is concocting mixtures to take revenge on her big sisters. She hasn't poisoned them yet, but her escapades make me think it would be a great idea to pair Flavia with The Poisoner's Handbook.

             Virginia Woolf: A Biography   The Hours  Vanessa and Her Sister

 The Hours may be one of my all-time favorite novels. I read it just two years after graduating from college with an English degree and I was stunned by the way Cunningham wrapped up literary prowess in phrasing I wanted to read on repeat. The book goes back and forth between writer Virginia Woolf and two women who will later be impacted by her work in big and small ways.  Then this year, I read Vanessa and Her Sister, which explored the relationship between Virgina Woolf, her sister Vanessa, and the people who comprised the Bloomsbury Group. Of course, no Virginia Woolf party would be complete without a good biography. The one written by her nephew is supposed to be quite good!

What fiction/nonfiction pairings do you suggest?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: The Crescent Spy

Josephine Breaux is unique in her Washington, D.C. newspaper office. She is one of the few women working there, and the only one working as a reporter. She is smart and talented enough to get the best intelligence from both Union and Confederate troops. But her success doesn't last for long - a rival newspaper exposes her identity and she is soon questioned as a traitor to the Union.

She gets a final chance from the Pinkerton Detective Agency and President Lincoln himself. They want her to flee to New Orleans, her home town, in disgrace and pretend that she had been a Southern sympathizer. As a reporter for the Crescent, she will write about the movements of Confederate troops (and then report them right back to the Union). When a familiar face from her childhood reappears, her carefully constructed story is in danger. Will she be exposed or can she continue to work as the crescent spy?

I really enjoyed this unique Civil War story. Instead of focusing on the battles from the perspective of the men fighting, we see them from the eyes of civilian reporters trying to get the best information without getting killed in the process. It rung so true for Josephine and her colleagues to walk into situations full of bravado, only to quickly realize that their lives are in grave danger.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency has placed Josephine in New Orleans for two reasons - the first is to misdirect the people of the South through her newspaper articles and the second is to gather information about Fort Jackson, which may prove to be an entrance point for Union troops. Wallace really brings both New Orleans and the Civil War itself to life. He also maintains a very real sense of fear throughout the book since Josephine is in double danger, from her place on the sidelines of battles and the fact that she could be uncovered as a spy at any moment. 

Josephine herself is a wonderful character. She is independent and determined and will do whatever is necessary to get her story. Josephine has an interesting story herself, but it is one she does not share with anyone. She grew up on a riverboat with a mother who was a dancer. She isn't sure of the identity of her father and her upbringing was unconventional, to say the least. Josephine's flashbacks to her childhood give the reader a lot of insight into the choices that she makes in the present.

The Crescent Spy is great historical fiction that will keep you reading into the early morning hours as you follow Josephine on her adventures. 

Sound good, right? I have a copy to give away to one of you lucky readers! To enter the giveaway, leave me a comment telling me about your favorite historical fiction heroine. I will randomly pick a winner on Friday, November 20.

The Crescent Spy
By Michael Wallace
Lake Union Publishing November 2015
325 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Sunday, November 8, 2015

It's Monday and I hate colds

Hey friends, I'm writing this from my couch because I am trying this resting thing due to a very nasty cold. I wasn't sure I was actually sick at first, because my allergies hate me and the weather has been fluctuating all over the place. But I woke up Thursday morning and was really and truly miserable. I am happy to say that it has been a bit better each day, but the music I sang for Sunday morning's church service was several steps lower than usual!

This week, I read two spy stories - Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth and Michael Wallace's new book The Crescent Spy. This is only my second McEwan and I didn't love it. Am I missing something or is this not the McEwan book I should have picked? The Crescent Spy was quite good. My review will be up Monday morning.

            Sweet Tooth  The Crescent Spy

On the blog, I said adios to October (don't worry, Halloween pictures are included) and I linked up for week 1 of Nonfiction November, where we wrote about the nonfiction we have loved so far in 2015.

This week, I will be reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Out of Sorts.

              Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library  Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith

What are you reading this week? 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Nonfiction November: Week 1


It's Nonfiction November time! You can find all of the information over at Sophisticated Dorkiness. This event is a great way to look back at the nonfiction titles you have read this year, add some new ones to your to-be-read list, and think about the importance of reading nonfiction. 


If participating does nothing else for me, I'm realizing that I read more nonfiction than I think I do. At this point, I've reviewed 20 nonfiction titles on my blog this year.

   Not My Father's Son  Love: The Saint and the Seeker  The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan  

   Blankets   Relish: My Life in the Kitchen  How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much 

    Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania    

   Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography  Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic: And Other Opinions I Can't Back Up With Facts  The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio 

   The Folded Clock: A Diary     

    For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards   

                            Truth and Beauty 


What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? That is a tough question. I'm going to call it a tie between Simply Tuesday and I Am Malala

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? I recommended Quiet a lot around the time I read it. I also talk Erik Larson (Dead Wake) up as a great gateway writer for people who don't think they can be nonfiction readers.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? I could read more history and science. I tend to gravitate towards memoirs/biographies or books that I think are labeled as "lifestyle" books.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? I hope to really motivate myself to read more nonfiction and add some great books to my tbr list! 

What do you hope to read during Nonfiction November? Definitely Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey, Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles, Headstrong by Rachel Swaby, and Bonhoeffer by Eric Mataxas. Then we will have to see what jumps into my hands the next time I go to the library...