Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review: Having a Martha Home the Mary Way by Sarah Mae

Having a Martha Home the Mary Way: 31 Days to a Clean House and a Satisfied Soul
Get your home and your heart in order in just 31 days!Sarah Mae wants to let you in on a little secret about being a good homemaker: It's not about having a clean house. She'd never claim to be a natural, organized cleaner herself--yet, like you, she wants a beautiful space to call home, a place where people feel loved and at peace. Where people can really settle in with good food, comfy pillows, and wide-open hearts.Is it possible to find a balance? To care for your heart--and your home--at the same time?Journey with Sarah Mae on this easy, practical 31-day plan to get you moving and have your house looking and feeling fresh. But even more than that, you'll gain a new vision for the home of your dreams, and how to make it a place of peace, comfort, and community. Originally published as the e-book "31 Days to Clean" and now revised and expanded in print for the first time, "Having a Martha Home the Mary Way" will inspire you to find a happier, healthier . . . "cleaner" way to live.
This was my first book by Sarah Mae and I was thrilled to find a new Christian author who writes super practical books that aren't necessarily all about Christianity, but about living regular life as a Christian, if that makes sense.  I've been on a huge housekeeping kick this year, trying to get and keep things in order and live like an adult - and this book gave me some of my best inspiration since Spark Joy.  The chapters are super short, but have a lot of encouragement and great advice on keeping your home and spirit in order.

Entertainment Value
It was a pleasure to read, which is a high compliment from me for a book that had a lot of parenting talk in it.  One of my biggest issues with Christian Women's Non-Fiction is that if it isn't about waiting for a husband, it's about being a mom.  Where are the books for women who are happily not married or don't have kids?  Anyway, I figured this one would contain a certain amount of mom-specific advice, and it did, but it was done in a way that I was still able to relate to.  I didn't feel like there was anything that just out and out did not apply to me and was a waste of my time to read.  Instead, I was able to find pieces of each chapter that worked for me.

This is one that'll be hanging around on my shelf.  First of all, it's pretty to look at.  Second of all, it has some great ideas.  And it was just fun to read and easy to relate to.  I definitely recommend it for those who think they'd enjoy a spiritual take on domestic life that doesn't get too heavy-handed.  And the best idea I gleaned?  Mae recommends cleaning your floors on your hands and knees with a scrub brush rather than a mop.  After nearly six years of unsatisfactory mopping I gave it a try and LOOK AT MY FLOOR!  It's a NEW FLOOR!  This alone is reason enough to recommend the book:

Thanks to Tyndale Blog Network for providing me with a copy to review!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Comics Friday: Two from Neil Gaiman - The Sleeper and the Spindle and The Dream Hunters

I've written before about how hit or miss Neil Gaiman is for me.  I didn't love Neverwhere or The Children's Crusade.  I did love Trigger Warning and was on the fence with Black Orchid and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  My book club buddy, Rachel, had loaned me her copy of The Dream Hunters a bazillion years ago because she thought it was closer to my style than some of his other works.  I also saw a copy of The Sleeper and the Spindle at my library and snatched it up due to its similarity - another retold folk/fairy tale.

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters (The Sandman, #11)
Following in the tradition of Japanese folk tales, this story is illustrated by legendary Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano, designer of Final Fantasy, who adds a new dimension to the character of Morpheus with his spectacular renderings. Formatted as a text piece with illustrations on each facing page, "The Sandman: The Dream Hunters" is a tale centered on ill-fated love and dream-eating monsters.
 The Sleeper and the Spindle
On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.
While it's true that my book club isn't traditional, what I love about our format - where we each choose what we want to read based on a theme - is that we've gotten to know each other's taste so well.  Instead of just seeing what people like or don't like from a single book, we see what they would choose given any option.  I think it leads to us really knowing what everyone likes - and clearly Rachel was on her game when she gave me The Dream Hunters.

Both of these books are just gorgeously illustrated, but the story is what shines the most.  I love graphic novels and comics, but I'm usually paying more attention to the art than I am to the story.  Good art can save a bad story.  In this case, however, despite the gorgeous art, I was drawn into the characters and their relationships and where they went rather than the art primarily.  I don't want to insinuate that there are problems with the art in either book - both are so original and could not possibly fit the story and style of each story more perfectly.  But there's just something about the way Gaiman does fairy tales that draws me in.

I highly recommend taking the time to find both of these and making them a reading priority.  They are both short and, obviously, graphic format, and can be read quickly, although I think you'll find that you want to go slowly and savor both the art and the storytelling.  I've returned my borrowed copy to Rachel and to the library, but I'll be looking for my own to have on my shelf.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Audiobook Review: Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman

Piece of Mind
A funny, poignant tale for readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. At twenty-seven, Lucy knows everything about coffee, comic books, and Gus (the polar bear at the Central Park Zoo), and she possesses a rare gift for drawing. But since she suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of three, she has had trouble relating to most people. She’s also uncommonly messy, woefully disorganized, and incapable of holding down a regular job. When her father’s unexpected death forces her out of the comfortable and protective Jewish home where he cared for her, and into a cramped studio apartment in New York City with her college-age younger brother, she must adapt to an entirely different life?one with no safety net. And when her “normal” brother snaps under the pressure and disappears, Lucy discovers that she has more strengths than she herself knew. Told with warmth and intelligence, Piece of Mind introduces one of the most endearing and heroic characters in contemporary fiction.
I loved the main character in this book.  The best part of me is that the author didn't make Lucy a caricature or portray her disability as cute and quirky.  She did a great job of creating a believable character who has serious struggles, but who isn't always likable or sympathetic.  Which is just the thing about brain damage, autism spectrum disorders, and mental illnesses - they aren't always funny and quirky and cute.  They can make people act in ways that are off-putting and annoying or hard to understand.  Adelman did a great job of capturing that in Lucy and keeping her disability from becoming just fun character trait played for humor.

Entertainment Value
While I appreciated the authors treatment of the characters, I wasn't just enthralled by the story line.  I cared a bit about Lucy and what would happen to her, but I didn't feel any urgency to finish the book or keep listening.  I'd listen for a while and then find myself turning it off to listen to something else.  And when the ending arrived I felt like it was fairly anti-climatic.  What shines here are the characters and their relationships with each other, not the plot line or how it is (or fails to be) wrapped up.  I am fine with books that have ambiguous endings, but I felt like this one was so ambiguous that I missed out on what the novel was even about.

The narrator does a fine job - I enjoyed her voice and her pacing and would definitely listen to her again.  I think I probably finished this because it was on audio - if I had been reading I would have either skimmed or put it down.  I loved the way the author handled Lucy's disability, but the story line just didn't engage me the way I expected it to.

While I'm not giving the book a hearty endorsement, I do think it will appeal to a certain group of readers.  Anyone who is looking for a book where brain injury/mental illness/disability is treated in a realistic way that isn't patronizing or used as "inspiration" will find this to be a welcome read.  It's also good if you're looking for a book that is more about characterization and less about story, but that isn't over-written.  It's a short listen on audio and the narrator does great, so I'd recommend trying it that way.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bookshelf Tour: Southern Lit

Last month's CYOA Book Club topic was Southern authors - I'll be writing about the meeting later, but I couldn't resist posting this book shelf tour first.  It started as just pulling a couple of short works by Southern authors to look at before making a final choice and evolved into this miss.  I decided I'd pull it all, or at least one representative from each author, to see what exactly I've got and what I need to work on developing.  I wound up amazed at just how much Southern Lit I have and seeing a few areas that need more focus.

And of course Pompom had to be involved.

I did my best to come up with sub-genres to fit the overall category of Southern Lit and photographed accordingly:

We've got the straight up ladie's fiction - Joshilyn Jackson, Claire Cook, Billie Letts, Rebecca Wells.  I don't find myself gravitating towards women's fiction the way I once did, but I'm still continually drawn in by these authors and will read anything they publish.

This is an area I realized I really need to work on - the African American voices of the South.  I've got the couple Toni Morrisons and a few other Hurstons that aren't pictured, but it's really a poor representation that I'll be looking to improve.

Another sub-genre I could have sworn I owned more books in than I actually do is books about books and authors.  I was somewhat shocked by how sparse my collection was, although not as much surprised that it skews towards Harper Lee and Flannery O'Connor, my favorites.

Southern humor is a constant source of entertainment for me.  I read Bo Whaley as a child and never got over how funny I think it is to be Southern.  This is another area where I limited the number of books I chose from each author - I've got quite a few other Florence Kings, Sweet Potato Queens, and Celia Rivenbarks.

No one writes short stories like a Southern lady, as evidenced by this collection.  I would be interested in seeking out Southern short stories with male authors, as these favorites are all female authored - and I'm hard pressed to come up with the name of a Southern male short story author.

I couldn't believe this was the extent of my Southern memoir collection.  Another category to add to the to-buy list.

Straight up chick-lit/romance.  I could have combined this with the women's lit, but I really felt like these are distinct in that they don't even attempt to tackle heavier topics than love and romance.

Southern literary fiction - not much lacking here.  I mean obviously, there are plenty more to add, but it's probably my healthiest sub-genre and the one that I own the widest range of in terms of publication date.

All of these fit just fine in other categories, but are some of my proudest signed works.  Decatur Book Festival is the place to find contemporary Southern authors ready to sign their books!

Another category that needs some work is poetry.  My brother is doing his best to keep me kept up to date on contemporary poetry, so I do have these signed collections, including his own!

So now that you've seen what I've got in my collection, I would love to have your input on what I should add.  What essentials am I missing and how would you recommend that I beef up my less developed sub-genres?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Happy Belated Book Birthday to In Real Life by Jessica Love!

In Real Life
Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade. They talk for hours on the phone, regularly shower each other with presents, and know everything there is to know about one another. 

There's just one problem: Hannah and Nick have never actually met.

Hannah has spent her entire life doing what she's supposed to, but when her senior year spring break plans get ruined by a rule-breaker, she decides to break a rule or two herself. She impulsively decides to road trip to Las Vegas, her older sister and BFF in tow, to surprise Nick and finally declare her more-than-friend feelings for him.

Hannah's surprise romantic gesture backfires when she gets to Vegas and finds out that Nick has been keeping some major secrets. Hannah knows the real Nick can't be that different from the online Nick she knows and loves, but now she only has night in Sin City to figure out what her feelings for Nick really are, all while discovering how life can change when you break the rules every now and then.
I've been so excited about this one, and I can't believe I let it slip by its publication date last week without posting about it!  You won't be getting a critical review from me, because I'm super proud to say that Jessica is a friend of mine from the Nest.  There's something super fun about a friend that you met in person because of an online relationship who writes a book about a couple that has an online relationship and finally meets in person.

This book is so sweet and fun to read.  I binged it over the course of just a few hours and wound up staying up extra late to finish.  I got butterflies and friendship feels AND sister feels in all the right places, and really enjoyed the reading experience.  I think Jessica's done a great job with contemporary YA and finding characters (and a kissing scene) you'll root for.  If you're a fan of contemporary YA, I hope you'll give this one a try!  Congratulations, Jessica, and thanks for an awesome read!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What I Read in February

February was such a fun month for me personally that I'm willing to overlook the fact that it was something of a slump in terms of reading.  I read much more than I did in January, but not much of it was just exceptional.  I gave out more two and three stars on Goodreads than I have in quite a while.  There were some notable exceptions: Spark Joy, Starflight, New Order, and American Housewife all got five stars, but I did a lot of less than stellar reading, which is always a disappointment.

The best part of the month was my BFF weekend with Jacki and Jennie from We Still Read.  They came to visit and I got to show them all around my hometown, which was a real treat.  And of course we went book shopping and spent hours and hours talking.  It was way too short, but completely refreshing.  I spent a two of the other weekends relaxing with my book club friends and meeting some of Luke's new board game friends, and the other weekend being sick and miserable (completely made up for by the BFF weekend).

Here's what I read:
Unscientific AmericansRoz Chast
Spark JoyMarie Kondo
I'm In No Mood for LoveRachel Gibson
September RosesJeanette Winter
The Four ElementsRoz Chast
The Sandman: The Dream ThievesNeil Gaiman
Proof of Life on EarthRoz Chast
StarflightMelissa Landers
The Evening SpiderEmily Arsenault
Ms. Marvel Volume 1G. Willow Wilson
Ms. Marvel Volume 2G. Willow Wilson
Ms. Marvel Volume 3G. Willow Wilson
New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative FolksFay Wolf
The Royal WeHeather Cocks, Jessica Morgan
Piece of MindMichelle Adelman
Adulthood is a MythSarah Andersen
The ExAlafair Burke
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a FuckSarah Knight
American HousewifeHelen Ellis

What did you read in February?  Any recommendations to get me out of this slump?