Friday, December 19, 2014

Book review: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

I'm not sure how I got to be 25 years old without reading Mary Poppins. But after seeing Saving Mr. Banks, I wanted to read the original story.

The original Mary Poppins is not the Mary Poppins of the classic Disney movie, that's for sure. It's hard to treat the story as the original since I've seen Mary Poppins as the movie character as long as I can remember.

But Mary Poppins the original is more stern. She's vain. She has no time for your nonsense.

Still, the story manages to be just as magical as the movie, maybe even more so since book-Mary isn't really likeable, but makes every day incredible.

Some scenes from the movie are straight from the book, but I have a feeling the movie has some invented scenes or stole scenes from books later in the books. I don't intend to read more of the series now, but maybe someday when there are small children in my life, I will read it to them.

It's not the most entertaining children's book to read as an adult, but I had fun reading it and comparing it to my memory of the movie. So, if you're curious too, it's worth a read!

Have any of you read Mary Poppins? What did you think?


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Friday, December 12, 2014

Book review: We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

I'm not sure there is anything new to say about this book. It's been talked and written about so much since it hit shelves last May. But, just in case you haven't heard of it yet, here are my thoughts.

I've read E. Lockhart's work before, but didn't realize it until after I read We Were Liars -- none of her other work has stuck out to me. But this book was everywhere this year, so I put my name on the list for it at the library and waited behind more than ten people.

It's a short, quick read. It focuses on the teenage children of some very well-off New Englanders and their relationships as they grow and change during summers shared on the family island (yup, family island -- I told you they were well-off). They call themselves the Liars. The narrator, Cadence, suffered an injury a couple summers before the telling of the book that caused her amnesia, and she spends her summer trying to unravel the truth behind her injury and trying to discover what her family isn't telling her.

While the circumstances of these teens' lives make them difficult to relate to (again, family island), most of the emotions in the book were familiar to me.

I shot through this book -- it's only a couple hundred pages and easy to read. And then I wanted to read it again immediately. I didn't (because I only had it for a couple more days from the library) but I will want to reread this one eventually. When Cadence finally figures out what her family isn't telling her, it leaves you wanting to go back through to see if you can pick up the clues she was missing.

The hype on this book is HUGE -- and I think this might be a case where it does the book a disservice -- hard to not be looking for the twists, and hard to live up to the hype. But it was a good book, and I recommend it! I gave it three stars.

Have any of you read We Were Liars? What did you think?


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Friday, December 5, 2014

Book review: Shiver

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Shiver was an experiment for me. Forever and ever ago, I tried to read Shiver on audio and hated it. I quit reading more than halfway through the book because the characters finally annoyed me so much. A while later though, I read and loved The Scorpio Races and, when I went on Goodreads, realized they were by the same author. 

Um, what? 

So I decided to give Shiver another try, but this time actually reading it rather than listening to it.

Shiver still isn't my favorite book, and I still don't love the characters, but I enjoyed it much more when I read it. Shiver is magical realism -- everything in the world is the same as our world... except the tiny little thing of the main character, Grace, falling in love with a werewolf. 

It's definitely the story line that kept me going, rather than attachment to the characters, but I'll probably finish out the series. I gave Shiver three stars.

Have any of you read (or listened to) Shiver? What did you think?


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Friday, November 28, 2014

Book review: Stardust

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest.

Either at the very end of high school or the very beginning of college, I watched a movie called Stardust with two of my best friends from high school. We knew little about the movie except that it was a fairy tale for grown ups. I think we didn't love it initially, but then we watched the bloopers, and then we loved it.

Fast forward many years and I discovered Stardust the movie was based off Stardust the book, which was written by Neil Gaiman, an author I'd heard loads about but whose work I'd never read.

Gaiman does an amazing job leading you through a world where you slowly notice more and more magic. The book truly feels mystical and magical and brings you into its world.

I loved Stardust the book. The movie followed the storyline of the book pretty well, so there weren't a lot of surprises (until the end, at least -- it's a bit different), but the book was (as most books are) so much more emotional and heartfelt. I loved it. 

If you're interested in trying audio, the author narrates this one himself and it is exceptionally well done. Highly recommended! I gave it four stars.

Have any of you read (or watched) Stardust? What did you think?


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Friday, November 21, 2014

Book review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

I heard a LOT of wonderful things about this book before picking it up and it didn't disappoint. 

Conor is a young kid dealing with a really tough situation. As he's struggling to just make it through every day life, a monster starts appearing. It incites him to do some awful things and then disappears, leaving Conor both with the consequences and wondering if the monster is even real.

I don't want to say too much, because if this book hasn't been spoiled for you, I don't want to be the one who does. But it was very well written, very emotional, and something I think a lot of kids could relate to.

If you're interested in trying audio, this one is narrated by the man who played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies and it is very well done.

Have any of you read A Monster Calls? What did you think?


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Friday, November 14, 2014

Book review: A Practical Wedding

A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Getting engaged is exhilarating…until it sets in that a wedding costs three times what you thought, and takes five to ten times the effort it reasonably should. And then there are the expectations: from calligraphy invitations to satin chair-covers, all those things that Must Be Done or everyone will be Horribly Offended. Or will they?

A Practical Wedding helps you create the wedding you want—without going broke or crazy in the process. After all, what really matters on your wedding day, what you’ll remember ‘til you’re old and gray, is not so much how it looked as how it felt. In this refreshing guide, expert Meg Keene shares her secrets to planning a beautiful celebration that reflects your taste and your relationship. You’ll discover:

The real purpose of engagement (hint: it’s not just about the planning) How to pinpoint what matters most to you and your partner DIY-ing your wedding: brilliant or crazy? Affording a wedding without having to cut your guest list How to communicate decisions with your family Why that color-coded spreadsheet is actually worth it Wedding Zen can be yours. Meg walks you through everything from choosing a venue to writing vows, complete with stories and advice from women who have been in the trenches, the Team Practical brides. So here’s to the joyful wedding, the sensible wedding, the unbelievably fun wedding! A Practical Wedding is your complete guide to getting married with grace.

Okay, so definitely not a typical book I'd review on my blog. BUT. A few weeks (months?) ago, Genna recommended this book, and I loved it so I thought it deserved a plug on the blog.

Guys, I haven't planned that much for my wedding yet and I've already had several stressful moments, or moments where I felt pressure about different aspects of the wedding and how they should go or what people would expect or whatever. I'm not someone who has been planning my wedding for infinity or who feels I have to stick to traditions (shmaditions). But there were still things I was thinking that probably shouldn't have been on my mind even a little bit. Like, if we have a ceremony in a different place than our reception and the ceremony is really short, people will be annoyed that we made them go all the way out there.* 

*totally not a thing I should worry about. I know. I knoooow.

But this book? Totally down to earth and calming. Reassuring. Reminded me that as long as our wedding is what me and Pat want, it will be a perfect wedding.

If you're engaged, or if you're planning a wedding or reception, or if you have a friend who is and is stressed out, I highly recommend this book.

Thanks for the tip, Genna!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book review: The Host

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, didn't expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

As Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she's never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.

Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature,The Host is a riveting and unforgettable novel about the persistence of love and the essence of what it means to be human.

I am not afraid to admit that I read the entire Twilight series. It and its author, Stephanie Meyer, have gotten a bad rap. (Not saying it’s deserved or undeserved.) But I heard great things about Meyer’s other book, The Host, from many people, including my little sister, so I had to give it a shot.


The Host is set in the future, several years after an alien society has taken over earth. The aliens use human bodies as Hosts -- they do not live on their own on earth outside of the human bodies they take. When they take a body, the person inside essentially just goes away…

For most people.
The Host is the story of Wanderer, an alien, and Melanie, the person whose body Wanderer takes -- a person who doesn’t disappear.

It’s hard to say much without giving anything away. The interactions between Melanie and Wanderer are awesome -- Laugh out loud funny occasionally and heartbreaking at other moments. There’s tension and romance and life-or-death suspense. I found myself crying in public as I finished this book on the bus.

It is maybe a liiiiittle long… in the same way as when you leave a movie and think, well that lasted longer than it needed to but still love it. I gave it five stars.

Have any of you read The Host? What did you think?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book review: Landline

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

I love Rainbow Rowell because I LOVE Fangirl. So I decided to read all her books. Obviously.

Landline was… ok. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but I never quite got sucked into it. I didn’t super relate to Georgie, the main character. A huge issue in this book is that Georgie’s husband, Neal, has slowly become more and more unhappy in their marriage. And while I know that happens and I know that it’s not always something fixable or avoidable, there were so many ways Georgie could have been there for Neal and she wasn’t. So when she was suffering through this book because of his unhappiness, I was unsympathetic.

There were pieces of this book I really enjoyed, though. I loved the flashbacks to how Neal and Georgie first got together -- they blended in well with the present-day action and were totally sweet. I also loved Georgie’s relationship with her mom, her mom’s husband, her sister, and their pugs.

In the end, def. not my favorite of Rowell’s, but still enjoyable. I gave it three stars. Now I just need to get my hands on Attachments!

Have any of you read Landline? What did you think?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book review: January First

January First by Michael Schofield

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

A brilliant and harrowingly honest memoir, January First is the extraordinary story of a father's fight to save his child from an extremely severe case of mental illness in the face of overwhelming adversity.

At six years old, Michael Schofield's daughter, January, was diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of child-onset schizophrenia that doctors had ever seen. In January's case, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her. January, "Jani" to her family, has literally hundreds of imaginary friends. They go by names like 400-the-Cat, 100 Degrees, and 24 Hours and live on an island called "Calalini," which she describes as existing "on the border of my world and your world." Some of these friends are good, and some of them, such as 400, are very bad. They tell her to jump off buildings, attack her brother, and scream at strangers.

In the middle of these never-ending delusions, hallucinations, and paroxysms of rage are Jani's parents, who have gone to the ends of the earth to keep both of their children alive and unharmed. They live in separate one-bedroom apartments in order to keep her little brother, Bohdi, safe from his big sister--and wage a daily war against a social system that has all but completely failed them. January First is the story of the daily struggles and challenges they face as they do everything they can to help their daughter while trying to keep their family together. It is the inspiring tale of their resolute determination and faith.

I have been intrigued by this book for a long time, but my old library didn’t have it. But my new one does!

January First is the story of the author’s struggles to figure out what is happening in his daughter’s mental health. January, his daughter, is anti social, shows violent tendencies, and is incredibly intelligent. She also has imaginary friends she insists are very real and changes her name daily. After the birth of Schofield’s second child, January’s behavior becomes exponentially worse.

This book was terrifying and fascinating. Schofield catalogs experiences with many mental health professionals, January’s reactions to the various drugs they prescribe, and their inability to find anything that works. It’s so scary to imagine someone you love behaving and suffering the way January does. I definitely got invested in this story, hoping for a happy ending for Schofield and his family.

One complaint/caution I have about this book is that it is only one man’s perspective. He has awful interactions with health professionals and I had to remind myself regularly that the way a person views a situation is not always the whole story. Schofield has a tendency to paint the health professionals as the bad guys. I like to hope they were acting in what they thought was January’s best interests.

Overall, I thought the book was terribly interesting and gave it four stars.

Have any of you read January First? What did you think?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book review: Roomies

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

If any of you lived in a residence hall in college -- do you remember the terror of meeting your roommate?

When I first went to college, Facebook was not a big thing yet. My roommate and I talked on the phone once before moving in together -- the night before I moved, actually -- and emailed a bit about fridges and microwaves. The emotions of walking into that room for the first time are still fresh in my mind, and living with my roommate was a huge factor in how I experienced my first year of college.

Roomies is about that -- about that first contact with your future college roommate, about figuring out if you’ll still be who you are once you move across the country or state or county and live on your own. Figuring out if you can live with this other person who you may not have a choice about living with.

There’s a lot more going on in Roomies too -- each of the girls are dealing with family issues and figuring out what it means to leave the people in their lives behind. There’s romance and friendship troubles and all the wonders of being a teenager.

I enjoyed Roomies! It was a fun story and a story I’d never read before. Full disclosure: I won this book fo free in a contest, but I honestly truly enjoyed it. Four stars!

Have any of you read Roomies? What did you think?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book review: Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming,beautiful, √Čtienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?

This book has SO MUCH HYPE around it. I’ve seen its picture about a million times on Tumblr. I knew going in that it would be fluffy and romantic and I was not disappointed!

The characters are really fun and the blooming romance made my stomach jump when it was supposed to. The characters are a little shallow -- not too much background or depth -- except for the two main characters, Anna and St. Clair. Their histories are present (while maybe simplified a bit). All in all, I thought the relationships were realistically portrayed -- romanticized a little bit, but still totally believable -- and I got invested in the story.

The book and storyline are simple -- if you’re looking for a story with Life Lessons and Depth, this isn’t for you. But if you want something fun to read on the bus to work, totally a great choice. I gave it three stars!

Have any of you read Anna and the French Kiss? What did you think?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The best dogs to follow on Instagram

Yup, you read that title right.

I will admit: about half of my Instagram feed at any given moment is pictures of dogs. I counted once, and I followed 32 animal accounts -- mostly dogs, a couple cats, a bird and a hedgehog. I've followed a few more dogs since then.

If it didn't make me so happy, I might be concerned I had a problem.

At any rate, here are my top five dog accounts to follow on Instagram:


Leroy is maybe my favorite dog on Instagram. He is scruffy and adorable and exactly the kind of dog I would love to have.


I LOVE NORM. Norm is the handsome pug pictured here, but his Instagram is named after his human. His human posts the cutest and most creative pictures of Norm. Love, love, love.


The Dogist is like Humans of New York, but about dogs. Kind of a street-photographer, the person behind The Dogist takes pictures of all kinds of dogs all over the place.


Tuna is actually fairly famous for his memes. But I love following this little critter, and his human writes fun captions that really show his personality. She calls him a toodlebrain, which I think increased my affection for him 100%


I think Manny was the first dog account I found. His "siblings" also have accounts -- I don't know how their human manages to post so many pictures, but I love this little dog family!

Plus one bonus account:

This one is a favorite but also isn't. Susie's Senior Dogs posts information on older dogs across the country who need to be adopted. (Older dogs are super hard to get people to adopt.) The dogs are all so sweet, so it's heartbreaking. But it's a good one to follow just in case a dog pops up in your area.

So. If you want to be a crazy person like me and follow a bunch of dogs on Instagram, there are my highest recommendations. They all make me smile on a regular basis. Definitely a good life decision.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Book review: Hopeless

Hopeless by Colleen Hoover

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Sometimes discovering the truth can leave you more hopeless than believing the lies…

That’s what seventeen-year-old Sky realizes after she meets Dean Holder. A guy with a reputation that rivals her own and an uncanny ability to invoke feelings in her she’s never had before. He terrifies her and captivates her all in the span of just one encounter, and something about the way he makes her feel sparks buried memories from a past that she wishes could just stay buried.

Sky struggles to keep him at a distance knowing he’s nothing but trouble, but Holder insists on learning everything about her. After finally caving to his unwavering pursuit, Sky soon finds that Holder isn’t at all who he’s been claiming to be. When the secrets he’s been keeping are finally revealed, every single facet of Sky’s life will change forever.

I hadn’t heard anything about Hopeless when I picked it up -- I saw a tweet that it was free for Kindle and downloaded it for my trip to the Pacific Northwest. Hopeless falls into a new category of fiction you may have heard about -- New Adult. This isn’t a technical definition, but from what I’ve heard/read, New Adult is like Young Adult’s big sister. The characters tend to be in their late teens or older, the themes are a little more mature, and the romance is a little steamier / more explicit.

I enjoyed Hopeless. Sky’s relationship with Holder was -- not going to lie -- a little creepy at first, in the kind of way that if she was my friend in real life, I think I’d be worried for her safety. But if you can ignore that, their relationship had my stomach jumping. The ramped-up romance is definitely more than you’d see in a YA book, but definitely less than you’d see in 50 Shades of Grey (I assume).

I’m not going to lie, Hopeless is a little cheesy. But the plot is twisty and surprising, the characters are fun, and it’s a quick read.

I gave Hopeless three stars, but it’s probably more like a two and a half. It got me through my flight -- I’d recommend it for a four hour flight for sure, but maybe not if you’re in the mood to, you know, actually think about things.

Have any of you read Hopeless -- or any New Adult fiction? What did you think?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book review: Ash

Ash by Malinda Lo

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Cinderella retold

In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

I love retellings of fairy tales. In fact, when I was reading Ash, I was also reading Cinder -- two vastly different retellings of Cinderella.

Ash is much closer to the original Cinderella. Ash is young when her mother dies, and soon after, her father remarries. But, as with the traditional fairy tale, he soon passes too, and Ash is left with a cruel stepmother who blames her and her father for the crippling debt she’s left with. So (no surprises here), she forces Ash to become her servant.

I liked Ash a lot. It takes the traditional tale of Cinderella and infuses it with a lot more fairy magic. It also focuses a lot on the King’s huntsmen -- and, in particular, Ash’s relationship with the King’s Huntress. The tone of the book is mystical, and it adds a lot to the traditional story. The Goodreads summary calls it “Entrancing, empowering, and romantic,” and I definitely agree!

I liked that Ash was Cinderella, but not -- Ash runs with fairies, and (a bit of a spoiler) doesn’t fall for the prince and live happily ever after. Ash brings a bit of diversity to the world of YA, and it’s really well done. I gave Ash four stars. 

Have any of you read Ash? What did you think?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Gym Pact App Review

Hello friends!

Have you all heard of the app Pact / Gym Pact? A few months ago, everyone was talking about it! I recently started using it and wanted to put my thoughts out there for anyone who is interested in trying it out.

When the app first came out, it was called Gym Pact, but I think they're rebranding to just call it Pact. Using this app, you set a goal for yourself for healthy behaviors you want to practice through the week: a certain number of times you want to work out, a certain number of days you want to log what you eat, or a number of veggies you want to eat throughout the week.

If you miss your goal, you pay up. When you make your "pact," you choose how much you want to pay for each day you miss. The lowest option is $5/day missed. So if I say I want to work out four times a week and then only do twice, that's $10 I have to pay up.

If you hit your goal, you get paid!

When Pact was all the rage a few months ago, I was hesitant to sign up. When I was training for big races, I wanted to be able to take rest days when I needed to and not worry about my Pact. But I recently signed up, thinking I could make money off something I should doing anyway.

So far, I really like using Pact! I have made pacts to work out and to log my food.

When I work out, I either use RunKeeper, which syncs with Pact to record my workout, or the motion tracker built in to Pact. One thing I didn't notice immediately is that the motion tracker is literally tracking your motion so if your phone doesn't move enough, even though you might be working out, it won't count. It also draaaains your battery. So mostly I've used RunKeeper and then synced my workouts. There's also another option to use GPS to identify your gym and show that you're there for long enough, but I haven't used that option.

For logging your food, Pact syncs with MyFitnessPal, which I've used before, so that's super easy. You do have to log three meals and at least 1200 calories, but that hasn't been a problem for me.

I haven't used Pact to count my veggies yet. From what I can tell, you take a picture of yourself eating fruits/veggies and other users vote on whether your picture is legit.

You don't make TONS of money using Pact. In the first week I used it, I made $1.25, the second week $1.28. I think you have to earn at least $10 before you can get paid. But it has been a good motivator for me to move my body since I'm not training for a race right now. I've returned to my days of walking during my lunch breaks (if you remember that, you've been here a LONG time!) and that counts toward my Pact!

Do any of you use Pact? What do you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hiking Mt. St. Helens

Climbing Mt. St. Helens was kind of like running my marathon. Or what I imagine having a baby is like. If you remembered how difficult it was or remembered the pain, you would never do it again.

But, with over three months having passed since we climbed, the pain is a fuzzy part of the overall happy memory.

I already wrote about the surprise that waited for me at the top of the mountain, but I wanted to talk about the climb a little bit, just in case someone else has been talked into climbing and wants to know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

I’m here for you, friend.

So, here’s the climbing part of the story.

Originally, Pat and I had wanted to climb in the summer when there would be less, if any, snow, but due to his summer school schedule, we climbed May 22.

If all this is too long -- if you just want a summary -- it’s this: if you’re a super experienced hiker, you can do this hike without too much difficulty. If not, it will be very challenging. My two biggest tips are wear sunscreen and wear sunglasses. Me and Pat learned the hard way.


To hike Mt. St. Helens, you have to buy a permit. They sell out pretty quickly for weekends and holidays, but we didn’t have any issue with buying them for a random Thursday. Still, we purchased our tickets in February to hike in May.

I didn’t hike regularly in preparation -- hard to hike in Kansas -- but it was only a couple weeks after my marathon, so I knew that my legs were in great shape. It was the altitude that would get me.

Pat was the reverse. Since he had been living in Denver and hiking regularly in the previous months, the altitude didn’t bother him as much, but he wasn’t in marathon shape. So we had different challenges.

I googled info about the hike every now and then, but usually, it freaked me out more than anything, so I stopped and just trusted that Pat knew what he was doing. He had read that it would take 10 hours, but I knew we were pretty inexperienced and I’m pretty slow and it might take us longer. We planned to sleep at the base of the trail the night before and start early in the morning.

We bought hiking boots and socks and broke them in over the weekend that I visited Pat in Denver. The rest of our gear -- tent, sleeping bags, backpack, waterproof pants, etc. -- we bought the week of in Oregon.

We each carried about three normal water bottles, a camelbak type water bottle, a powerade or gatorade (I forget which), three sandwiches between us, trail mix, and a couple mini granola bars.

We both also had trekking poles, which were lifesavers. Seriously. We saw some people with skis or snowshoes, too.

We started out with too many layers. I had shorts, yoga pants, and swishy water proof pants, a tech shirt from my marathon, a running and a waterproof jacket. I stripped out of both jackets and the yoga pants before we even made it to the mountain. Ha. During the hike, there were times I put the waterproof jacket back on, but that was it -- the yoga pants and running jacket stayed in my bag.

The Hike

We camped at Marble Mountain and hiked up whatever trail we found from there. The first section is through forest and is fairly easy. The trail is clear and easy to follow.

After the forest section, there’s a lot of rocky path. It starts out pretty easy to see and follow the trail, but the difficulty does get more and more difficult as you go on. We lost the trail more than once in this section as it isn’t very clearly marked. There are neon flags every once in a while, but we mostly tried to find our own way and followed others we could see ahead of us.

(BTW, I was right -- I am really slow. We got passed by every person on the mountain. No exaggeration.)

There was one point I almost fell off a cliff-ish part. No joke. I was bouldering and the rocks under my feet slid. I ended up pretty much flat on my stomach and unable to find a way out for a few minutes. I also kicked a basketball sized boulder down the mountain. It was pretty scary.

The lesson here was that if it got too difficult to see the path, we probably should look for a different path -- usually there was a good way through the boulders and a not-so-good way. After that, we were more careful to try to follow the actual path.
You can see the boulders behind Pat!
In addition to the big boulders, there’s also a nice mix of rocks and ash in places. I would imagine that’s what’s under the snow, if you ever did a summer hike. It’s slippery.
Eventually, we started hitting more and more snow. At first, it was alongside the path through the boulders and we could choose between rocks or snow. But, as the rocks got steeper and the path became less clear, we switched exclusively to snow and only used the boulders for resting breaks. The boulders became increasingly few and far between as we continued until finally, there was about an hour at the top when there weren’t any -- just snow.
Still some boulders here! (Obvi)
This was the really, really difficult part of the hike -- the snow.

It was difficult physically. It’s slippery. We tried to follow in other people’s steps, which worked really well, but when there weren’t any, we had to kick in a new hole for each step.

But it was difficult mentally, too. It’s very difficult to judge distance when all you see is snow. We kept thinking we were almost there and then it would be a false summit (where it looks like it’s the top, but it’s just a ridge) or would find out that what looked like a short distance was not short at all.

We definitely used the boulders for breaks, but also as mini goals -- we can stop to rest when we get to that boulder. When there weren’t boulders (or when we couldn’t make it to one) we would take standing breaks -- just standing still for a minute until we caught our breath, then moving on.

I was right that my legs were strong, but the altitude really got to me. I had a headache and got dizzy a couple times. And Pat started getting sore legs earlier than he would have liked. So I was resting a lot to catch my breath and he was resting a lot to help his tired legs.

We finally reached a point where there were no more boulders -- only snow. It didn’t seem like we had far to go, and we saw some people on their way down already. (Including a family with several teens and pre-teens, which is why I’d say it’s probably not the hardest hike in the world if you’re hiking regularly.)

One man, on his way up and standing near us, asked a man on his way down how much farther we had still. He said about an hour. It’s a good thing I didn’t hear him because I might have given up. Pat heard, though. But Pat had some extra motivation to get us to the top.

We did finally make it to the top. It was very challenging. I kept wondering -- and still wonder -- if it was harder than my marathon. I think, alone, it might have been. But since Pat was with me and I ran the marathon alone, I think the marathon might have been harder? I don’t know. I think there were points we each thought we couldn’t do it and were ready to give up -- but it was never at the same time. So we didn’t give up and we made it to the top.

Now, for the way down…

A lot of people do what’s called “glissading” to get down -- basically, sledding on your butt. I was scared about this from the beginning -- HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT ABOUT TO SLED OFF A CLIFF???? and also I read that glissading was how most people were injured (which is why I stopped reading things and decided to just trust Pat).
We glissaded a little bit, but I was still scared and Pat’s pants weren’t really slick enough, so we didn’t do much. Which, I think, is part of the reason our hike was so much longer than other hikers’ -- if you glissade down, you’re a lot faster. What we had to do was sliiiiide one foot forward for a little until we were either doing the splits or until we could stop ourselves. It was a pain in the butt and we both fell a lot and it wasn’t easy on our ankles or knees, but we made it down.

We got a little lost between the boulders and the forest and tried three paths before we found the right one. With how tired we were, the forest seemed endless, but we made it out.

So that’s it! That was our Mt. St. Helens hike. I would imagine a summer hike or a hike on a different path would be verrry different, but I did want to put this out there in case someone who is thinking of doing the hike finds it.

What’s the most challenging physical activity you’ve ever completed? Is the pain fuzzy now in your memory?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Book review: The Center of Everything

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

In Laura Moriarty's extraordinary first novel, a young girl tries to make sense of an unruly world spinning around her. Growing up with a single mother who is chronically out of work and dating a married man, 10-year old Evelyn Bucknow learns early how to fend for herself.

Offering an affecting portrayal of a troubled mother/daughter relationship, one in which the daughter is very often expected to play the role of the adult, the novel also gives readers a searing rendering of the claustrophobia of small town midwestern life, as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. Evelyn must come to terms with the heartbreaking lesson of first love -- that not all loves are meant to be -- and determine who she is and who she wants to be. Stuck in the middle of Kansas, between best friends, and in the midst of her mother's love, Evelyn finds herself . . . inThe Center of Everything.

The University of Kansas (my alma mater and previous employer) started a program called the Common Book. Each year, they select a book they ask the incoming class to read. They bring the author to campus and hold discussions on the book and no one reads it and the events are awkward and it’s generally a great time.

This year, they selected The Center of Everything, which, compared to previous books, I think they actually have a good chance of people reading. I read it, anyway.

The Center of Everything Takes place in Kansas in the 80s. It covers a lot of time -- the main character, Evelyn, is in grade school when the book starts. It ends when she is graduating high school. So it’s maybe not as detailed about the ins and outs of everyday life as books that cover a shorter span of time.

Personally, I thought that was kind of cool -- we got to see Evelyn grow up a lot because it was broader. There are several overarching struggles Evelyn has in this book: her relationship with her mother, who is a single mom. Evelyn’s father has never been in the picture, and as Evelyn grows up, she starts to realize what that means and what others think of her mom because of it. Her relationship with religion is also a huge topic. This is Kansas, after all, and we get to see Evelyn find a place in religion, but then see how that shifts as she grows and changes. There are a few more overarching topics we see her grapple with over the years, but I don’t want to give too much away.

And of course, there is a boy. He’s a boy she thinks is perfect; but a boy who also shows what her life could have been if she’d been prettier, or if she’d skipped school more, or if she’d just made different decisions.

The first half of this book -- the younger years -- was good, but it was a little more work for me to get through. Once Evelyn got to high school, though, I really enjoyed her story. I gave it three stars.

Have any of you read The Center of Everything? What did you think?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book review: A War to Believe In

A War to Believe In by Jenna Thomas

A War to Believe In is the sequel to Peace in a Raging Storm. As such, this review may have some spoilers for the first book.

Life wasn't life without the painstaking realization that you didn't belong in everyone else's idea of reality. But Jade was in it. Everyone had a place for her. Everyone had a purpose for her. And Jade was only ever told where she fit in it. Their reality. His reality. Her Sequesfia's reality. Her guardian's reality. Her father's. A graveyard of war pursuits that refused to rest at their markers. But Jade only kneeled at one. Would she find a war to believe in? Or would she take no war at all?

If you’ve been around a while, you may remember my friend Jenna wrote and published a book a while back. Well, the sequel is finally out!

The first book, Peace in a Raging Storm, tells the story of Jade discovering that humans as she knows them are not the only intelligent species on earth. There are several other species blending in with humans, only they have insane magic and powers. There are some humans who are fighting to end the other species and some humans who are fighting to protect them. At the end of the first book, Jade realizes members of her family are on both sides of the war, and some are even responsible for countless deaths.

In A War to Believe In, Jade continues to struggle with these realizations, but more and more gets dumped on her. I liked the first book, but I really liked the sequel -- as Jade (and the reader) get more comfortable with this new world, you come to care for the characters a lot more. You can start to think of the deeper consequences of the war -- for Jade and for each species. And the book goes deeper and deeper into what this life means for Jade.

I think a lot of times the second novel in a trilogy (I think this is going to be a trilogy?) feels like a filler -- just to get you from book one to where the characters need to be for book three. This is not true for A War to Believe In. The whole book is full of action and constantly surprising. I gave it four stars.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

Before requesting this one from the library, I knew very little about it. I’ve read some of Laurie Halse Anderson’s other books and follow her on twitter, so I saw the hashtag everywhere when this one came out and I guess it just stuck in my head.

TIKOM is a heavy book. The Hayley’s father is a veteran a couple times over. He suffers from (what I would call) PTSD and has a lot of addiction issues. He can’t hold down a job and isn’t really doing much parenting. Hayley is self-sufficient; she doesn’t like relying on other people and will do whatever it takes to protect her life with her father.

The Impossible Knife of Memory focuses on a population that isn’t often addressed in Young Adult lit -- veterans. I won’t say too much on this because I know there’s a lot of people who have a lot more experience with vets and their challenges after active duty, but I think they’re a forgotten / misunderstood population, and this book shines light on some challenges some (certainly not all) vets might face.

I think it also presented a realistic portrayal of addiction -- of not knowing which version of your loved one you’re going to meet when you get home, of the ways the addiction ends up poisoning all areas of your life.

Given the topic, it’s hard for me to say I loved this book. Guys, a lot of it is a downer. But it was incredibly well written and the main character’s voice is true. The characters in TIKOM are deep and people you come to care about. I ended up racing through, wanting to know what would happen to everyone. 

I gave The Impossible Knife of Memory three stars (but I was torn between three and four).

Have any of you read this one? What did you think?


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