Monday, November 30, 2015

A look ahead into December...

Hi everyone! Hope that your Thanksgiving (if you celebrated) was wonderful and that all of your holiday shopping (if you partook) resulted in good parking spots and killer deals to be had.

My Thanksgiving turned out surprisingly well considering it was mine and my husbands first time hosting in our new house and there was 15 people. I didn't think our house could hold 15 people, but it did. I don't think it would want to do it again anytime soon though. Quinn made a really great brussel sprout dish that was delicious, and I'd never even had brussel sprouts before. Also, lots of wine.


Just wanted to let everyone know that the schedule for this month is going to be a bit wonky. I'm participating in #amonthoffaves, which is so much fun and I looked forward to doing. So we are going to be going off the rails with the MWF schedule, just wanted to let you know.

So this month will be: normal reviews, tour reviews, Month of Faves, looking back through the year, aaaaand some exciting news from friend Jamie regarding a new venture she is launching! All kinds of fun!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review: "The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction and Houdini in the Spirit World" by David Jaher

-I know I said I was off this week but I forgot that I had this scheduled and I was too lazy to rearrange things to make it fit somewhere else. Now I'm really done. Happy Thanksgiving!_

Confession time. Does anyone watch Drunk History? When that show is good, it's sooo good. Though they have had some lame-o episodes. There was an episode where they talk about Houdini  and Arthur Conan O'Doyle and it made me laugh an unholy amount. Here's the link, there's probably swearing, so ear buds on if you're at work. Anyway, that episode is the reason that I picked up this book. I wish I had a reason that made me sound smarter but that would be a lie so here we are :)

When Houdini wasn't being the Houdini that we all know him for, he spent a borderline lot of time trying to discredit spiritualists, mediums and the like. This caused a huge amount of strain between him and his friend, Sherlock Holmes' creator Arthur Conan O'Doyle.  The tests that these tricksters were put through were rigorous and usually pretty invasive for the women? (Are you hiding something inside of your body to make noise or light or something? We are going to need to check.) Though most of the people are debunked with relative ease the titular "witch of Lime street" sessions got downright creepy AND violent.

 I thought there were 2 really compelling things about this book:

1) Learning about Houdini himself. I knew a little bit about Houdini because Wisconsin takes a little claim on him from his time in Appleton but learning about the man himself and what made him tick was really interesting.

2) It was so sad to hear about all of the lives lost in WWI and the family members who were left behind trying to reach them "in the great beyond". Especially the parents whose children were missing in action and couldn't know if they were.

This book was interesting, well researched, and full of interesting characters but it was If it was about 100 pages less it would be a 3, but as it stands it's like a 2.5.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Off this week...

Jamie, over at Books and Beverages, always takes the week of her birthday off. I kind of think that's a great idea. So I'm off this week, the week after my birthday. (And also, hosting 15 people at my house for Thanksgiving, so I'll probably just be laying on the floor hyperventilating all week.) Hope you all have a fabulous week and I'll see you soon!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Book Review: "A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis and Revived his Prayer Life" by Jared Brock

Jared Brock is not a good pray-er. He knows this. He knows it's a problem. So he hangs out with Jews, Catholics, Greek Orthodox (s?), nudists, Westboro Baptist Church members (which is worse than you are probably picturing, it was for me at least!), and more to get their perspectives on prayer. We're not going to talk about them all, of course.

Did you know that Pyongyang in (what is now) North Korea used to be a huge center of Protestant Christianity in the 30s and 40s? Billy Graham's wife grew up in Pyongyang, her parents were medical missionaries. After the Korean War things changed as the political power shifted. Christians were sought out and executed, or if they were lucky driven underground. Obviously now the situation is even worse for Christians there.

He spends time at a Greek Orthodox monastery high in the mountains of Greece (that apparently Prince Charles also visits). Here he talks about the 5 word prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner." (The monk explains that it's only 5 words in Greek, haha). He said that he prays it several times a day, especially while doing monotonous manual labor. Breathes in "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God"- Breathes out "Have mercy on me a sinner". I think I'm going to start doing that in my yoga classes. A good way to concentrate on something good and keep your mind from wandering.

He walks over coals after a multi-hour "church service" (Wesley editorializing a little bit there) led by Tim Robbins. I don't understand what walking over coals has to do with God, or at least the Christian God. Jared seemed equally confused by the whole thing.

The book had a lot of bolded quotes interspersed in the chapters, here is one I liked the best:
"You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him".

I'm going to be honest, there's a few things that bugged me about this book. They aren't deal breakers by any means but they struck me as odd.

1)He makes beard jokes at every opportunity. Like, I don't know if you're familiar with this guy before reading this book and he has a thing about beards and I just don't get it? But anywhere there are constant jokes and comments on people's beards. It was weird. Like, okay you think beards are really noteworthy and funny you can stop.

2)His picture appears 15 times on or in this book. This doesn't include the author picture on that back of the book jacket or the pictures that document his trip. A lot of the pictures are him in the dress of the people that he talks about in the chapter. So the chapter where they are in Rome, there's a goofy picture of him dressed as a cardinal at the top of the chapter. I felt like it was at best: weird, at worst: offensive.

Overall I give it a 3.2 stars out of 5.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Book review: "Dessert & Booze Hacks" by Peggy Wang

Between the title of this book and the fact that it's author is a founding editor of Buzzfeed, you basically know all it is you need to know about this book. That and it's awesome. If you need some fun, creative ideas to get you through your family holidays, a tedious work meeting, or day dreaming about when summer will be back, then this is the book for you!

This handy, board-booky little "hack"book is full of good ideas (that could always lead to bad ideas, because, well, alcohol). I think of the 75 recipes in the book there was only one that I was like "nope, that's not happening" - carrot cake in a glass. One I found highly suspect - pink beer (?!) but all of the others sounded pretty delightful.They also have tips like "how to make watermelon more sweet" and "how to finish off that jar of nutella".

I think the first ones I will try would be: champagne jello shots (perfect for New Years!),Cool Whip Triple-Fudge Cookies (there is not a bad word in that title!) and Cake Batter Rice Krispies.

This book was totally fun silliness and I can't wait to start trying these fun things out with my friends and family!


Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Review- "Not on Fire but Burning" by Greg Hrbek

I have feelings about this book and I'm not sure what they exactly are. If you read this and feel similarly I'd love to hear from you!

Here's the goodreads summary, who summarize it better than I could have:

Twenty-year-old Skyler saw the incident out her window: Some sort of metalic object hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge just before it collapsed and a mushroom cloud lifted above the city. Like everyone, she ran, but she couldn't outrun the radiation, with her last thoughts being of her beloved baby brother, Dorian, safe in her distant family home.

Flash forward to a post-incident America, where the country has been broken up into territories and Muslims have been herded onto the old Indian reservations in the west, even though no one has determined who set off the explosion that destroyed San Francisco. Twelve-year old Dorian dreams about killing Muslims and about his sister—even though Dorian's parents insist Skyler never existed. Are they still shell-shocked, trying to put the past behind them . . . or is something more sinister going on?

Meanwhile, across the street, Dorian's neighbor adopts a Muslim orphan from the territories. It will set off a series of increasingly terrifying incidents that will lead to either tragedy or redemption for Dorian, as he struggles to prove that his sister existed—and was killed by a terrorist attack

When I heard about this book I knew immediately that this was something I needed to get my hands on. I...I was kind of disappointed. I loved the idea. And the characters were super relatable. And I sincerely hope that our future is not like the one that was portrayed, though I enjoyed seeing how it was portrayed in such a realistic way.

I wouldn't say this is a spoiler, but the book starts pretty "normally" formatted and linear (it jumps between characters and time periods but nothing strange) but then as the book goes on, especially closer to the very end the book stops being as linear. That made me sad. I don't generally need a book to be all tied up neatly and have all of my questions answered, but I like a little bit of a stronger finish then what this book offered me.

I'm honestly at a loss with this one. I like the idea and I liked the characters and the stories. I even liked the writing. But it kind of lost me at the end, at the bums me out. I will do what I always do when this happens with me and a book. Decide which ending I like best and go with that. Hooray! Problem solved. So Ill say 3.5 for most of it and then 2.5 for the ending.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Library Educated Starter Kit

Do you know Shannon? You should. She's over at River City Reading. This is her post idea that I stole. Read hers here. She talks about how she always finds herself recommending the same books, and that though she should probably expand, favorites will always be favorites.

I seriously think every blogger should have a list like this on their person and when they meet someone who wants book reviews you just hand this list over. Maybe on little postcards. We should make this a thing.

We even have one in common!

Nonfiction that reads like a thriller that you can't put down:  "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. I honestly feel like you can't go wrong with Erik.


Fiction that you don't understand always understand what is happening but when it's done you think "That.Was.Awesome":


Ok, to be fair I read this one pretty recently but I've already recommended it to a lot of people!
Evil kids (aaaaaaaalso this would fit in the above category too):


When you need to get a handle on that overflowing closet and "how did I get so much STUFF and why do I think I need this junk to be happy?":


Pillars of Wesley's life:



I, and Shannon, would love to hear what your book recommendation starter kit wold look like!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Today, we're a food blog - Tortilla Soup Recipe

I know, I know, this is the opposite of a food blog. There will not be any pictures of beautifully separated ingredients in sweet little bowls.

I just needed a book break, and I love this soup. And it's soup season!

And it's my blog, I do what I want.

Hat tip to friend/guest poster Jen who shared this recipe with me eons ago.

Known to others as "Wesley's Tortilla Soup" known to me as "No really, this whole thing comes from cans, tortilla soup"

I'm not kidding. Everything comes from a can. If you have a fresh tomatoes use those instead, if you want no salt/low sodium or that kind of thing feel free to use it!

Here's what you need:

- Chicken (I usually make 2 or 3 breasts in the Foreman and then cut them up and throw them in. Or slice and dice up a rotisserie from the store or whatever)

- 1 can of chicken broth

-2 cans of cream of chicken soup

(If you want a more brothy/less creamy soup switch it to 2 broth, 1 COC)

- 1 can of diced tomatoes

-1/2 an envelope of taco seasoning

-1 can of black beans (these need to be drained! Or else your soup will be purple and look like something you should have made for a Halloween party)

-1/2 bag of frozen corn (I have to use a full bag because whenever I use 1/2 Josh complains there's not enough corn. Eye roll)

-Shredded cheese (for topping)

-Sour cream (for topping)

-Tortilla chips (for topping)

Throw everything that is not a topping into a pot (did you rinse your beans?!), put it on medium/medium high, walk past it occasionally and stir it while you're munching on chips that you're supposed to be putting on top of the soup when it's done. When everything looks warm and bubbly, ladle it out, top it with dairy joy and whatever chips you haven't eaten during cooking, and get at it.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Book Review: "The Love of Tzar and Techno: Stories" by Anthony Marra

I'm so incredibly mercurial about short story collections. I've had some that I just love and some that I'm incredibly so-so about. And I feel like there's no consistencies. The good news is that this collection, was a love.

(I apologize in advance, I seriously blanked on every name I tried to recall for this review).

Most of all of the stories take place in the USSR/Russia between 1940 and the 2000's. They focus on the same wide circle of people, but the stories never felt like they were forced. I think my two favorite people in the stories were the blind woman, and the former prima ballerina. My favorite story, might have actually been the very first one. Or I was just so excited because after getting through the first story I thought "yep, this will be good! I know I'll like this!".

Two most compelling things for me from the stories:

1. There's a woman who ends up leaving a small Russian town as a mail order bride and lives in Glendale California (for awhile). One of the very first things that this woman notices when she steps off the plane is the wheelchair ramps. She thinks that they are weird public art. Her husband tells her what they are and she feels a huge surge of pride and patriotism for this country who accommodates people who have these needs. It kind of makes you wonder what people with disabilities have to put up with and navigate in foreign countries.

2. From what I gathered from the stories I feel like there's not much of a safety net for those who need it. It's scary to think about how a lot of people are only one bad turn away from a life of real poverty and possible starvation. There's a lot of those types of people in this book.

If you learn nothing else from this book it's that you find out why you should NEVER EVER "like" Tom Hanks fan facebook page!

I give this book a solid 3.5 stars out of 5, and I'm pleased to have another good short story experience!

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: "A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII" by Sarah Helm

I've said this at least 10 times, I don't do well with spy novels. But, a nonfiction book that talks about spies? Sign me up buttercup.

There was all kinds of espionage going on during WWII (hello most obvious sentence that I will probably write this week). If you were with the British, you might have made contact with a woman named Vera Atkins. This woman was mysterious with a capital M. (But not *that* M, though he's in there too). She was the last person that many British spies saw as they loaded onto airplanes that would drop them into Nazi occupied France, or one of the other lowland countries.

Vera took her responsibilities so seriously, but she wasn't this, like super loving den mother type. She was empathetic and kind but never let anyone get too close to her, and didn't get too close to too many people. To some she was even loving, but to others she was frosty and disapproving. This didn't always serve her well. The people that she was most concerned about was the young lady spies who she sent to the continent to serve.

During the war some spies were captured, or didn't make contact or any other number of other things; and lost contact with their handlers. When the war ended, Vera made it her mission to find these spies. (I was like, uh duh, of course someone has to go find out what happened to them. But she got a surprisingly lot of push back from the upper ups. They initially gave her 3 months to find something like 15 people in super chaotic post war Europe.There was some serious a*holeness going on around there though, as governments usually do.) The good news is that she found out what happened to all of them. The bad news is, there were almost no happy endings. But there were tales of bravery, courage, selflessness and honor under the worst circumstances imaginable. God bless those men and women for their incredible, astounding bravery.

Here are the cons: the book is a little tough sometimes (spoiler: one of the girls may have gotten put into a furnace alive), and there are SO many names to remember. It's a big cast of characters, and then since their spies they all have like, 4 names a piece and that gets to be a lot.

I wrestled with my rating, but I'm going to put it at a 3.5. If you have an interest in spies, World War II, mysterious women and bravery get thee to the library or indie bookseller in your area and pick this up!


Monday, November 2, 2015

Words I always spell wrong

Words I consistently spell wrong:

Words I only spell correctly because a pop song has taught me to spell it:

Word I only spell correctly because of a grade school cheerleading routine:

Word I can spell because I have to type it at work all the time:

I'm generally not a bad speller, but how can a book blogger not spell reccommend right? Isn't that our bread and butter?

What words can you never spell right?