Friday, December 19, 2014

Still Shopping for Your Book Lover?

I hope that you're almost done with your holiday shopping for the book fiend in your life, but just in case you're not....(I know I'm not reinventing the wheel with this post, but they are fun so there we go! All ideas are from Etsy, love to support the crafters!)

Knit Fingerless Gloves Knit Arm Warmers Knit Gloves Fingerless Mittens Knit Hand Warmers Gauntlets Knit Wrist Warmers Indigo Blue Lace

Want some warmth while reading but still want to have unhindered fingers? How about some fingerless gloves? (This shop has tons of pretty options!)

Ship at Full Sail - Hand-cut Silhouette Bookmark, Ship Bookmark, Nautical Bookmark, Pirate Ship

Who doesn't need bookmarks? I always need more bookmarks. This shop is all silhouettes in city skylines, favorite characters and more. So fun!

Colorful Kiwi Orange Strawberry Fruit Shaped Sticky Post-it Index Bookmark Tabs | Cute Affordable Food Themed Stationery

I use tabs to mark all my spots in books so I can go back to the things I found interesting. This shop has no shortage of adorable notes for use!

A Moment - A comic typography quote art print by 17th and Oak

Do you have a comic book fan in your life? Can we talk about how totally awesome these prints are? Typography and heroes! They also have a bunch of movie ones, including my boy, Indiana Jones. I think this shop is my new obsession.

Spare Oom  18" x 5.5"  Wooden Sign Chronicles of Narnia

Do you have a Narnian in your life? Just in case they get lost on the way back through the wardrobe you can label their far away land of "Spare Oom". (I.Love.This.)

And if you're looking for something electronic...

Are you looking to buy a new Kindle? Jamie at Books and Beverages has a lot of experience with them, and she wrote up a little helpful guide. Check it out here!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

5 Favorite Reads of Last Winter

TanyaAndi and are doing a fun December activity and I will be participating occasionally. Might be a nice change from the usual. Today's blogpost: 5 favorite reads of last winter!

Last winter was particularly brutal. But luckily good books and a warm apartment helped keep me sane. Here are my five favorite books that I read last winter (summaries and pictures from goodreads):


"HHhH" by Laurent Binet.
"HHhH: “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich”, or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”. The most dangerous man in Hitler’s cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich was known as the “Butcher of Prague.” He was feared by all and loathed by most. With his cold Aryan features and implacable cruelty, Heydrich seemed indestructible—until two men, a Slovak and a Czech recruited by the British secret service, killed him in broad daylight on a bustling street in Prague, and thus changed the course of History.
Who were these men, arguably two of the most discreet heroes of the twentieth century? In Laurent Binet’s captivating debut novel, we follow Jozef Gabćik and Jan Kubiš from their dramatic escape of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to England; from their recruitment to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone, from their stealth attack on Heydrich’s car to their own brutal death in the basement of a Prague church.
A seemingly effortlessly blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Laurent Binet’s remarkable imagination, HHhH—an international bestseller and winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman—is a work at once thrilling and intellectually engrossing, a fast-paced novel of the Second World War that is also a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history.
HHhH is one of The New York Times' Notable Books of 2012. "
This book was incredible. It was even funny sometimes, quite a feat considering the subject matter. After reading this book (though it was a little bit fiction) I felt like an expert on this event. When I'm in Prague I will be seeking out all of these places!


"Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach

(You can check out my review here)

"Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers some willingly, some unwittingly have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them."

Ah the book that introduced me to Mary Roach. And my favorite Mary Roach book still! Death is a taboo and touchy subject and I appreciate Mary's humorous but respectful approach. I highly highly recommend this book, even if you aren't generally a science person.


"Havisham" by Ronald Frame

(You can check out my review here)


Before she became the immortal and haunting Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, she was Catherine, a young woman with all of her dreams ahead of her. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall—HAVISHAM—a reminder of all she owes to the family name and the family business.

Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers elegant pastimes to remove the taint of her family's new money. But for all her growing sophistication, Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything—her heart, her future, the very Havisham name—is vulnerable.

In Havisham, Ronald Frame unfurls the psychological trauma that made young Catherine into Miss Havisham and cursed her to a life alone, roaming the halls of the mansion in the tatters of the dress she wore for the wedding she was never to have.

Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2013"

You know how I know this book is good? I don't like Great Expectations, and I still really liked this book. I think Miss Havisham is such an interesting character and I was so curious to hear about her backstory. Didn't disappoint!


"The Circle" by Dave Eggers

(You can check out my review here)

"The Circle is the exhilarating new novel from Dave Eggers, best-selling author of A Hologram for the King, a finalist for the National Book Award.

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge."

This book is great but also very scary because I can see it happening in the not too distant future. Put your electronics down occasionally before it all takes over!


"Burn" by Julianna Baggott

"The fate of the world is more fragile than ever as Pures battle Wretches and former allies become potential enemies.

Inside the Dome Patridge has taken his father's place as leader of the Pures. His intent had been to bring down the Dome from the inside with the help of the secret resistance force led by Partridge's former teacher Glassings. But from his new position of power, things don't seem quite as clear. Perhaps his father had been right. Perhaps if the world is to survive it needs the Dome--and Partridge--to rule it.

Outside the Dome Pressia and Bradwell continue piecing together the clues left to them by their parents from the time before the detonations. Soon they will be able to help heal the Wretches, freeing them from their monstrous fusings and the Dome's oppression once and for all. But their success also depends on Partridge. Can they still trust their friend and ally to see their plan through? Or will a new war begin?"

I don't generally get over the moon excited about trilogies but this one I was bananas for. It was agonizing waiting for the third book and when it came out I gobbled it up. Love this series because it takes a really harsh look at people and realities after a cataclysmic event.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: "Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder and the Battle for Modern New Orleans" by Gary Krist

"I doubt if there is a city in the world where the resident population has been so divided in its origin, where this is such a variety in the tastes, habits, manners and moral codes of it's citizens" -Fredrick Law Oldmsted.

(He has nothing to do with the book but I love Fredrick Law Olmsted. That is one interesting life! Here's the wiki page for him in case you have the curious!)

I love history and architecture, but New Orleans never has appealed to me. Which is weird, because history and architecture and cemeteries are all things I love. Maybe I will come around to it, but I feel like I already know so much about the city from this super interesting book!

The book focuses on New Orleans between the years of 1890-1920, especially in the areas that the title has already told you: sex, jazz, murder, and really control of the city. (Though to be fair the sex part of the title could have probably been "vice". Even though there's a lot of talk about brothels there's also talk about booze and gambling. Though they mostly happened in the brothels, so touche.)

Sex (and/or vice) were a big part of the scene in the Storyville section of New Orleans, where all the fun/seedy stuff went on. There were brothels that catered to all tastes and desires and to all different types of people ("black, white, jew, interracial"). There was of course people (like Carrie Nation) who wanted to reform New Orleans and make it a respectable place. There were mixed results (there's the "battle for modern New Orleans.)

This book taught me more about jazz than I ever knew before, I feel like a regular Lisa Simpson! It highlights many famous jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong. He was the first/most famous musician who brought jazz into mainstream America. Whenever I was reading a section about him I kept singing his part of "Hello Dolly" in my head. ("Hello, Dolly...this is Louis....Dolly, it's so nice to have you back where you...beloooooong". Haha!) They also talk about "Jelly Roll" Morton who got so rich playing jazz that he had a diamond implanted on his front tooth. In the early 1900s. Newsflash to modern rappers: swag and grills were not your idea.

They talked about some super gruesome murders in this book. I will give you a math equation to show you: Sleeping victims + several axe chops to the face  = gruesome murders with lots of blood on the ceilings.  I remember seeing something about this on some show about hauntings on the history channel. Here's some more information about it. Also most of these (multiple) murders go unsolved. Sleep tight lovelies! 

Random/favorite observances:

- "New Orleans was the first American Metropolis to build an opera house, but the last to build a sewerage system". Priorities fail. I mean I'm all about the fine arts but I'm way more about flushing toilets and not having cholera.

- The Italians were really really not popular with a lot of people in the city. Learned lots of ethnic Italian slurs from some of the quotes! Eek!

-New Orleans seemed to be doing okay as a pretty integrated city but then there were a lot of Jim Crow laws enacted that really set the city back from where it had been.

This book was great! I try not to compare every really interesting book to an Erik Larson (it's a compliment those books are great) but they are similar! Highly recommended if you love: jazz, history, true crime, mob stories and so much more! I give it 4 out of 5 stars!

I recieved this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books

Thursday, December 11, 2014

5 Favorite Travel Tips

TanyaAndi and are doing a fun December activity and I will be participating occasionally. Might be a nice change from the usual. Today's topic was vague: a list of 5 favorite things that aren't book related!

I went with my 5 favorite travel tips! I know, this is a random topic for the day, but a lot of travel happens this time of year so maybe good things to keep in mind :)

Don't leave the shower cap!

I saw this tip somewhere on the internet and now I use it all the time. Never leave behind a shower cap at a hotel. Open it up and nestle your shoes inside of it. It keeps all of the gunk on the bottom of your shoes off of the rest of the stuff in your suitcase!

Plastic bags can be your friend!

I always pack at least 2 sturdy, handled plastic bags when I travel. They have never NOT come in handy. You can stuff your dirty laundry in them, you can use them as packaging to help protect valuable things, or wrap up your toiletries bag if you're scared that your bottle of shampoo is going to explode mid flight. The most recent time I used them was to wrap up a pair of costume butterfly wings that I didn't want to shed glitter all over my suitcase.

All the black parts? Glitter.

Always have food!

Whether you're on a plane or in a car always have SOME kind of food with you. It doesn't have to be much but you never know when you're going to get delayed on the tarmac, stuck in a snowbank, or stranded on the highway behind a terrible accident. Being hangry will always make a bad situation worse! Throw a couple of granola bars, a bag of teddy grahams, some candy or something else in your bag. It takes up no space and could save your sanity at the right minute.

Suitcase switcheroo!

When I went to Mexico with my husband for our 5 year anniversary we both packed our own suitcase. Because I am paranoid, I made him put one of my bathing suits and an outfit in his suitcase, and I put a pair of his swimtrunks and an outfit in my suitcase. That way if one of us lost a suitcase the unlucky one would have 2 outfits to live on for awhile. (One in the other one's suitcase and one outfit in your own carry on). I've never had a suitcase lost and fingers crossed and prayers to God I keep that streak alive.

And an eye opening conversation with my sister...

My sister travels for work, literally constantly, so she's a good flyer. I'm an okay flyer until things get really bumpy and then I'm very,very nervous.We were talking about flying and she said something like:

Q: Well you can put alcohol in your carry on.
W: Are you sure? I mean, they won't let me take more than 3 ounces of face moisturizer but I can bring vodka?
Q: Yeah, it just has to be under the size limit and be in the quart bag thing and you can.
W: WHAT? THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. (Scuttles to pantry and throws mini alcohol bottles in ziploc bag in anticipation of next flight which is at least 7 months away).

So obviously you don't want to get super drunk on your flight because: 1) hangover when arriving at destination 2) super dehydrated due to flying anyway 3) you might be an a-hole when you're drunk and that could get you in trouble with TSA and Homeland Security and other people who you don't want to be on their naughty list and 4) you don't want to be on passenger shaming.

Having said that I will definitely be having a couple of small bottles in my next carry on in case of turbulence. Be sure to check with your airline before doing this, of course, because all of them are different.

So there is your COMPLETELY unrelated to books post for the month.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rapid Fire Book Review #3

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. This book was incredible. All of the character's stories wove together almost seamlessly and what seemed like no effort at all. Believable characters, definitely scary parts, and basically one of my worst nightmares beautifully captured in a novel. This would deserve a review all on it's own but I'm unsure how to do it without giving too much away. I'll never look at an airport the same again!If you want more of discussion on this book, head here to see what Shannon has to say about it. I'll be piping in too!

Eastern Europe !: Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does by Tomek E. Jankowski. This title of this book is indicative of the book itself, very long! It was really interesting,but it takes on a daunting task; taking on the history of a whole area, and it starts way way way back. There were lots of interesting facts but sometimes I had to resort to skimming. Super cute cover too!


Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore. This billed itself as "an alternative history classic!" I thought it was okay, but when I sat down to actually write a review about it I came up short. When I thought about describing it to someone it sounded really boring. So I don't know what to think about this one.


The Cartographer of No Man's Land by PS Duffy. I wanted to like this book more than I did. I partially think it's my fault because I might have read too many war books in a row. I just never felt very invested in the characters. Though it was interesting to read a book from a Canadian perspective.


Your Life Still Counts: How God Uses Your Past to Make a Beautiful Future by Tracie Miles
Do you feel like that you have screwed up too much in your past that God has no interest in loving and forgiving you? It's not true. He loves you and thinks you're worthy of all the good things that He has to offer. The book is the author's story, but also other women who have overcome great difficulties. At the end of each page there are little activities and Bible verses. What makes it especially good is that these women struggle. I mean, it's not good that they struggle, but when confronted with dealing with the situations they have they aren't just like "Well let's just up and make a super vulnerable huge life change" like it's nothing. It's very human relatable of them!Very encouraging read!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: "While Beauty Slept" by Elizabeth Blackwell

Tip of the hat to T from Traveling with T for recommending this book to me after she heard that I was on the prowl for good fairy tale retellings. Thanks buddy!

Our setting is somewhere Europeish, sometime Middle Ages-ish and our narrator Elise is not in a good position. Her beloved mother, and almost all of her siblings were killed when "the pox" ravaged her family. Her distant, unfeeling father thinks she's useless except to marry her off and to get her out of the house. She's only like 13, so she doesn't want that. She sneaks out of their falling down cottage and makes her way to a somewhat nearby town to find her aunt. She hasn't actually met her mom's sister but she's hoping that she will be able to help her find work in the castle, like her mother had long ago. Her aunt keeps her safe and clothed while she adjusts to life in a town before helping her find work in the castle.

Being in the castle is unlike anything Elise ever imagined. She keeps her aunt's warnings always in the front of her mind, that there might be men who say they love her and want to marry her, but then cast her aside once they were done with her. (This is exactly what happened to her mother.) She is discreet, modest and works diligently, kind of revelling in the fact that she is working for her own money and not subject to the whims of her father or if the crops had failed that year. She quickly moves up the ranks of the help until she is actually handmaid to the queen.

It's not all rainbows and butterflies. Though Elise loves the Queen, she knows that she is sad and burdened with the fact that she hasn't gotten pregnant and Elisa can't help. There's pervy knights who are handsy. There is Maleficent, a royal family member who doesn't like being told what to do and who has a strange effect on the people around her. And then there's a war. And sickness. But no dragons. So there's that.

Here's one thing that drove me a little nuts. At the end of every.single.chapter there would be a sentence like "Would I have made the same decision if I knew what was to come?" or "I had no idea what this action would mean". I get that the author was trying to create some suspense and foreboding but oh my gosh, every chapter?!  Maybe every 3rd chapter would be okay? Gracious. It's a dumb little thing but it was annoying. Having just ranted, I did like the book. I think it was really authentic in some ways (not everyone gets a happy ending, and yeah monarchies are not ideal) and the chapters were short and moved well. A high 3 out of 5! Also I like the cover.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Living Abroad - Vietnam

The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs

Dana was a journalist in San Francisco in 1989 when she and a friend decide to quit their jobs and go backpacking in Asia for 2 months. Right before they leave for this trip Vietnam was offering tourist visas to Americans for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War. Dana finds herself in love with this beautiful and complicated country.

She returns to live (not just visit) in 1992, she had taken a very intense immersion Vietnamese language class for a few months before she returns. But she still finds he language skills pretty lacking. Luckily, she has an ally in Vietnam, her teacher from the US, Tra has moved back to Vietnam and will be there to help her along.

Dana moves into a guesthouse very near Tra. Her landlord is Tung, a savvy smooth talking businessman who always talks about the time he spent in Germany; along with his with Huong (who speaks no English) and their son Viet. They have a bit of an awkward start (the American and Vietnamese versions of privacy and personal space are very different). However this family will become very important in Dana's time in Vietnam.

In Hanoi, different trades would group together and settle different parts of the city (fabric vendors in one area, bronze workers in one area). Dana's place is located in the area of Hanoi where all the bicycle mechanics congregate. (A Dream was a popular type of motorbike, hence the title.)  Many of the mechanics would come into the house and lounge and chat with the family throughout the day. One such mechanic is a thoughtful young man named Phai, he also becomes an important part of Dana's time.

One thing that plagues Dana when she first moves to Vietnam is guilt she has as an American about the war. (Though - if I remember right- she was only 11 when the war ended). She worries about how people will react to have an American in their midst considering the war ended not long previously.She is never faced with open hostility because of this. Most of the Vietnamese that she talks to have strong feelings about fate and destiny and most have feelings that whatever death or unfortunate events that occur to them were just unhappy turns of unavoidable bad luck.

Dana has struggles. Though her language skills are improving everyday she often gets lost in conversations. People stare at her all.the.time. Perfect strangers warn her that at 29 she's getting to the "rotten fruit" stage where no man is going to want to marry her. She finds out that the regular (and secret) police have a keen interest in her and her friends and activities.

I didn't mind this book, I kind of wish I liked it more.  I think that the part of the problem is that I'm sure 1995 Hanoi and 2014 Hanoi are incredibly different places. I'd be interested to see a more updated "version" of this story. I give it a low 3 out of 5.

A very pretty cover though!