Browsing Category "Books"
22 Feb
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Book: Like Family

Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Homes is a memoir by Paula McLain about she and her two sisters growing up together in foster care. It is heartbreaking and melancholy and hopeful all at once.

Some of the places the sisters stayed were horrid. Some were sweet. But the impermanence and uncertainty of their situation was profound.

I can’t really come to the right words about this memoir. If I’m being honest, after finishing one particular chapter I was so upset by it I had to put it down and read something else for a few days. But I felt like I needed to know how the story played out, so I returned to finish it. And while there is hardly a movie-like, loose-ends-tied ending, you do get a sense of closure – a sense of hope.

I am a memoir junkie, and understand that’s not true for everyone. But if you enjoy memoirs, or if you have any interest at all in foster or adoptive care, it is a worthwhile read. Just have some chocolate or a glass of wine nearby. You may need it along the way.

8 Feb
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The Other Wes Moore

It’s winter – the time of year I get to read again.

I saw The Other Wes Moore at the airport several years ago, but since I tend to overpack books when traveling, I resisted the urge to buy the book and instead put it on my Paper Back Swap wishlist. Restraint!

Anyway, the premise of the book is that there were two kids named Wes Moore who grew up fatherless in the same city and were nearly the same age. One Wes Moore (the one writing the book) grew up  to graduate from college while having a successful career, the other after years of drug dealing landed in jail for an armed robbery that left a police officer dead.

The author, out curiosity about how two kids with such similar backgrounds and the same name could end up with such different outcomes, writes to the other Wes Moore in prison. These letters lead to visits and interviews which lead to the book.

The book itself is well written, and the author does a good job of going back and forth between their two lives in ways that are fluid and easy to follow. And while it is an interesting read, the Moore never speculates about the causes of their much different paths. He was wise to resist a “how I turned out ok and this guy didn’t” slant (which would have likely come across as condescending), but an exploration of factors that affect at-risk youth would have made it easier for the reader to feel a call to action. There is, however, a list of resources in the back of the book where a reader could do more research on their own. But from a sociological perspective even a brief exploration of the differences between their two lives that were most likely to have made the biggest differences in outcomes would have been fascinating.

The verdict: It’s ok. The writing is well done, but lacks a clear voice, but the contrasting stories were so interesting I really wanted to see how the “characters” ended up where I knew they were going. If you love memoirs or social sciences, this is worth your time. Otherwise, you’d probably not enjoy it much.

22 Jun
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How Starbucks Saved My Life

I have to admit, when I first read the title of this book I rolled my eyes. I was thinking about it as a Starbucks customer, and while Inlove Starbucks as much as the next gal (perhaps slightly more than the next gal), it is far from life-changing. The story isn’t about a customer, but a customer-turned-employee.

Michael Gates Gill had a successful job in advertising, but when he found himself approaching 60 and his career in shambles, he interviews for a job at Starbucks on a whim, gets it, and spends the rest of the book learning life lessons while learning to make lattes.

The story was interesting and I enjoyed the character development. Gill’s voice, however, was stiff and forced, and the book is rife with anecdotes from his pre-barista life that have little tie-in to the story and seem to only serve the purpose of name-dropping.

The book was an easy read, and the movie rights were secured by Tom Hanks, which is fortunate because it really would make a great feel-good film. This is one book where the movie might actually be better.

24 May
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A Red Herring Without Mustard

The third in the Flavia de Luce series, Alan Bradley knocks it out of the park…again, with his wildly entertaining tales of 11-year-old Flavia the sleuth. These books (including the latest) had me laughing out loud regularly, and wishing I could invite Flavia over for tea. Not that I have tea, as it were.

This story includes a near-murder of an old gypsy woman Flavia gives refuge on the family’s enormous estate, the hanging of a town ne’er do good on one of the estate’s statues, and includes a cast of almost too good to be true characters. Like the first and second book of the series, I couldn’t wait to get back to the story each evening to find out what happens next, and the story included some plot twists and details you just can’t see coming. Bradly is a masterfully storyteller, but Flavia steals the show.

If you haven’t already read the first (or second) book, please do. The more you know Flavia, the more you’ll love her. If you have, this book is worth your time.

4 May
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At Home

As soon as I heard of Bill Bryson’s At Home, I knew it would be right up my alley. Subtitled, “A Short History of Private Life,” the book covers nearly everything imaginable as it relates to home and the life we experience therein. From the time of prehistoric cavemen through the 20th Century, there isn’t much Bryson doesn’t cover. Unsurprisingly, the book is a whopping 450 pages, and large pages at that, which explains why it took me so long to read it. But the longevity is no reflection of… enjoyability (is that a word?).

Cleverly arranged in chapters by rooms (Kitchen features food, Bathroom public and personal hygiene, for instance), the book is full of Bryson’s classic wit and occasional laugh-out-loud humor, but is not without a number of meandering rabbit trails. The chapter on the dining room leads to an anecdote about the centerpiece, which leads to a sidebar about how salt and pepper became the two seasonings on the table, but before he even gets to those two specifically he writes a six page essay on the role of various other vitamins and minerals in our diet. All if this is composed in such a way that you’re totally drawn into the story, but by the time you walk back up from nutrition to salt and pepper to centerpieces you have to check the header to see, “What chapter is this again?”

If you have any interest in topics such as architecture, agriculture, art, food, or gardening, you will find this book immensely enjoyable. Just be sure to block out a decent chunk of time for it – this book won’t read itself in one sitting.

21 Mar
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Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

If you aren’t already familiar with The Pioneer Woman, please make yourself so immediately.

Now that we have that out of the way, you should also know she recently wrote a book. Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond. It details the story of her meeting, falling in love with, and marrying her husband. Actually, you can read most of what is now the book on her site for free, and I recommend you do so.

I have to admit I am not one for romantic stories. I don’t even read fiction all that often. But I love this tale. Perhaps because it’s true, perhaps because I love Ree’s self-deprecating style of humor, and maybe because not many of us would actually mind being swept off our feet by a handsome cowboy (at least theoretically – until that lands you on a manure-filled cattle ranch). Whatever the reason, I found the story highly entertaining. So when the book was released, I was so excited to buy it to support the Pioneer Woman, and also because it was to chronicle their first year of marriage, which included a less-than-thrilling honeymoon, pregnancy and the birth of their first child.

I was also incredibly excited when I learned The Pioneer Woman was coming to both Columbus and Cincinnati for a book signing – two cities well within a reasonable (four hour) drive from where I live. So my friend Amy and I booked a hotel, hopped in the car, drove 4+ hours to the book store, (shopped at Whole Foods!), waited 2+ hours for our turn, and when we finally got to meet Ree, it went something like this.

“Thank you.”

I’m very smooth.

Anyway, I came home and read the book (even though I had already read much of it) in about a day and a half. I could not put it down!

My only complaint is that much of the additional material feels like it lacks the emotion the rest of the story. Perhaps this is because the emotions associated with a disastrous honeymoon,  an unexpected and uncomfortable pregnancy, and postpartum depression are not exactly as fun and exciting as falling in love and getting married – I have to give her that – but a bit more reflection would have better matched the feel of the first 2/3 of the book.

Either way it’s a highly entertaining and mindless read – great for vacation or even just an extra-stressful day.

The verdict: Read a few chapters online for free and if it floats your boat, buy the book. It’s a feel-good story, and don’t we all need one of those every now and then?

21 Feb
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One Thousand Gifts

I first heard about Ann Voskamp’s new book, One Thousand Gifts, on Twitter. I read her blog for a few days before deciding, yes, I would enjoy this book.

I was right.

The basic premise of the book is that gratitude is a foundation of faith. This isn’t a new concept, really. Oprah made the gratitude journal a cult phenomenon years ago. But where Voskamp excels is in tying gratitude to the divine. By focusing as much on being thankful as on the object of our gratitude (God/Christ), it gives fresh perspective on thanksgiving.

The text is filled with flourish. Most of what I read is straightforward – I am drawn to this type of prose from my School of Journalism background. But Voskamp’s writing style is more like reading poetry set in prose format. I enjoyed it so much, and think many of you will, too.

19 Jan
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Sense & Sensibility

A few years back, I watched Pride & Prejudice while my friend Colleen had come to visit. She loved it, and thought I might, too. As usual, she was correct. I purchased the movie and have watched it over and over and… you get the idea. I never had to read this book while in school (not surprising, unfortunately) and after falling in love with the movie, I read the book which I loved even more. Also not surprising.

My thoughtful husband bought me a Kindle for Christmas. I thought I’d give Sense and Sensibility a read since I loved Pride and Prejudice so much. Well, that and it’s in the public domain so it is free. Either way, I enjoyed the book very much, and read it within a week. A great feat considering the other book I’m reading has only seen through 100 pages in a month. But I digress.

If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, this will come as a familiar comfort. None of the surprises or revelations that transpire throughout the text come as a complete surprise if you are familiar with Jane Austin’s writing, but it’s not exactly predictable, either. I have to admit I enjoyed Pride  and Prejudice better of the two, and if you’ve read neither, do yourself a favor and read it first. But both are worth your time. Trust me.

The themes of the book include character and reputation, romantic attachments, economic considerations, familiar conflict, friendship, trust, betrayal, logic, and more. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of the upper class late 17th century and makes me almost long for that time. (Until I remember they had no indoor plumbing, electricity, books were a luxury and I would likely be a servant, not one being served. Oh, well.)

For those of you who have read both, which did you prefer?

11 Aug
Posted in: Books, Craft
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Elodie the Elephant

I got this book, One Yard Wonders, for Christmas from my lovely Aunt Ginger. A book right up my alley, filled with small projects, mostly for beginners, that could be tackled in a relatively short amount of time. (Note: The book does have some more advanced projects, so don’t overlook it if you’re more experienced with sewing.)

Anyway, I looked it over a few times, and kept thinking I should try out a few of the projects. Then I’d put it back on the shelf. But when two friends announced they were pregnant, I knew it’d be the motivation I’d need to tackle a project, because the book is filled with cute projects for babies and children.

I chose Elodie the Elephant, a simple project that really only takes half a yard of fabric and a couple hours. I’m really pleased with how they turned out, and hope their recipients are, too. I mean, who wouldn’t love a stuffed elephant, right?

Sidenote: I started these elephants while on my trip to Arkansas where I was able to use my grandmother-in-law’s sewing machine which is…ahem… slightly nicer than my own. I finished them up on my (still nice…but not that nice) sewing machine at home and between the rattles and humming of the motor am trying not to have sewing machine envy. To which I think to myself: who knew there could be such a thing as sewing machine envy.

I can’t share the pattern with you because it’s copyrighted, but you can definitely go pick the book up for yourself and make any number of the dozens of super cute projects.

5 Aug
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Giveaway Winner: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Update: And the winner is…comment #2 – Brit! (Another book to add to your to-be-read shelf!) Enjoy, and thanks for entering.

I finished this book over the weekend, and had to restrain myself from flipping from the last page back to the first and starting it immediately over again. I don’t think I can overstate how much I enjoyed this book.

First of all, Donald Miller is a phenomenal writer. He could compose a book devoid of meaningful content, and I would still enjoy the way he structures his sentences and weaves a story together. Fortunately, his books are full of meaning.

In short, this book is about story. About how we each live out a story, and some of us live boring, uninteresting stories, and others live purposeful, meaningful stories. Miller came to this realization after a screenwriter and producer came to make a movie out of a previous book, and he began to realize he hadn’t been living out a story (worth telling) in his own life. Miller writes through this process by highlighting elements of what makes a great story, and the whole book comes together fantastically.

Put simply, this book is changing my life. (The only other time I’ve made such a claim on Simple Modern Life is after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is still true – my eating/shopping has definitely changed since reading that book.) I’m not sure how it will all play out, but I definitely want to live a better story in my own life, and I would bet that after reading the book, you will too.

And because I love the book so much, I want you to have the opportunity to read it, as well. Just tell me your favorite movie in the comments below before Saturday at 9:00 p.m., and I’ll choose send a random winner a copy of the book. All the rest of you non-winners should go out and buy this book. Do it for me, ok? I’m sure Donald Miller wouldn’t mind, either.