Caraval – Book Review

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). I only recommend books and products that I genuinely use, read, and love!

Last year there was a lot of buzz about the 2017 release of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I put it on my list of books to read this year. It took me a while to get to it but I’m so glad I did!

Caraval is an intriguing game in which the audience participates. The game takes place once a year and the events that occur within the game are just as mysterious as Legend, the mastermind behind the Caraval games. Scarlett and her sister Tella long to attend the Caraval games for years but knew that their abusive father would never let them go. Finally, as Scarlett is preparing to marry and give up her dreams of attending Caraval, Legend sends a personal invitation to the sisters.When the girls arrive at Caraval they are told to be careful to avoid getting caught up in the game. The must remember that it is only a game no matter how real it seems. Caraval forces the sisters to question reality as well as their own relationship with each other.

I’m so happy that I finally got around to reading this book. Garber paints such an imaginative picture of the Caraval world. Her descriptive writing kept me engaged through the entire book. It proved to be a quick read for me.  The characters and the imagery were the two things that appealed to me most.  If you are a fan of The Night Circus, I really think you will enjoy Caraval as well.

Caraval is also the first in a series.  I have heard that the second book will be released in 2018 and I honestly can’t wait!  I rated this book a four out of five stars! If you like fantasy, great imagery, and mysterious stories, Caraval is one you should definitely check out!

4 Star Rating

 

 

Reflecting On 30 and 40 Before 40

I turned thirty in April.  Since my birthday, I have been reflecting on this whole aging thing quite a bit. I don’t really have a problem with getting older and I certainly  do not feel different than I did at 29. However, as I reflect on the first 30 years of my life, particularly my twenties, I do wish I had done some things differently. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things about my twenties that I wouldn’t change.  That decade gave me ten beautiful years of marriage to my best friend, five amazing children, two college degrees, and a lifetime of memories. However, if I could change anything in my twenties, I would have traveled more. I would have spent more quality time with my husband pouring into our relationship. I would have held my children a bit closer and a bit longer. I would have saved more money and spent less.

Turning thirty makes me feel as if I have a brand new start ahead of me.  I have a new clean and fresh decade to devote more time to the things that I neglected during my twenties.  That feels both exhilarating and daunting to me.

During this fourth decade of my life I want to travel more alone, with my kids, and with my husband.  Fun fact, Daniel and I have never stayed more than three hours away from our home together without kids and that has only happened once in the almost fifteen years we have been together.  We spent a weekend away at a spa in  2014 after Daniel graduated with his master’s degree. We didn’t even go on a honeymoon when we were married. I hope to change that soon. I want to see the world with Daniel and I also want to show the world to my children so I hope to spend more time traveling with them. So far, we haven’t taken them very far from home but now that most of them are getting older, Daniel and I have been talking a lot about the places where we would like to take them.

In addition to traveling, there are so many other things I hope to accomplish over the next ten years. I have goals concerning everything thing from paying off debt to participating in a triathlon. I’ve always been a goal-setter and a fan of lists so I have created a list of things I plan to accomplish before I turn forty. I had a lot of fun creating this list and I am seriously considering creating a lifetime bucket list.  I hope to document it here on the blog every time I cross one item off my lists! So, without further ado, here are the forty things I want to do before I turn forty!

40 Before 40

  1. Pay off our debt. I’m looking at you student loans!
  2. Become my own boss.
  3. Buy myself a “fun” car that all my kids won’t fit in. (Camaro, please!)
  4. Start swimming again. Maybe competitively.
  5. Participate in a triathlon at least once.
  6. Visit all 50 states. I’ve been to 25. 25 more to go!
  7. Save a substantial amount of money.
  8. Visit London and Paris with Daniel.
  9. Go to Disney World.
  10. Take my kids to the beach for the first time.
  11. Visit Las Vegas with Daniel.
  12. Go on an African safari.
  13. See the pyramids in Egypt.
  14. Visit forty countries.
  15. See an active volcano.
  16. See Pompeii.
  17. Spend New Years in Times Square at least once.
  18. Read 750 books.
  19. Write a book.
  20. Host an exchange student.
  21. Go on a cruise.
  22. Ride in a hot air balloon.
  23. Go hiking in a rain forest.
  24. Indoor sky dive.
  25. Face my fear of open water and learn to scuba dive.
  26. Eat at a Michelin 3-star restaurant.
  27. Visit Moulin Rouge.
  28. See the northern lights.
  29. Go zip lining.
  30. Go kayaking.
  31. Diversify my income.
  32. Get my nose pierced again.
  33. Get a tattoo for each of my children.
  34. Hike the Grand Canyon.
  35. See a musical on Broadway and in West End.
  36. Hold a sloth.
  37. Bathe an elephant.
  38. Learn to meditate and practice yoga effectively.
  39. Learn a second language.
  40. Say only yes to my kids for a whole day.  Keep ‘no’ out of my vocabulary.

What else should I aim to accomplish over the next decade? I’m open to suggestions! Shoot me a comment below!

Me Before You

Me Before You
Me Before You

This book review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on August 28, 2015.

The topic of caring for disabled people is often one that is difficult to approach.  It is often not easy on the caretaker or the patient but Jojo Moyes does an amazing job at exploring the many facets of the life of a disabled person and a caretaker in Me Before You.  She easily pulls the reader in emotionally and makes you wonder what life would be like if you were facing the same circumstances.  I found myself in love with both of the main characters.  When they were sad, my heart was absolutely broken for them.  When they were happy, I found myself rooting for them.

This book does often involve some pretty hard topics that most people have strong opinions about but I still found it to be a beautiful book.  It is one that will probably affect you on an emotional level but I definitely think it is worth a read.  Moyes writes well and her work is easy to read.  I found myself not wanting to put this book down.  Overall, I rated Me Before You four out of five stars.  It’s a great book but be prepared to feel all the feels!

4 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set A Watchman
Go Set A Watchman

This book review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on July 16, 2015.

It’s not often that I can sit back and devour a book but yesterday, I did exactly that with Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.  When this book was announced earlier this year, I immediately pre-ordered it from Amazon and have

been waiting on it to arrive anxiously.  I loved Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and I couldn’t wait to dig into Go Set A Watchman.  And I have to say, I was not disappointed.

Over the past few weeks there has been quite a bit of controversy over this book after it was revealed that Atticus Finch is portrayed as a racist.  Atticus, for many, has come to represent that epitome of humility, equality, and respect.  In To Kill a MockingbirdAtticus stood up for what was right, taught his children valuable lessons about people and race, and became one of the most beloved characters of American literature.  So for many, Atticus as a racist was a hard pill to swallow.  Lee absolutely does portray Atticus with racist characteristics in Go Set a Watchman and that was hard for me to read at certain points in the book.  However, I think it is a dose of reality.  To Kill a Mockingbird is very much a story about Scout’s childhood and a child views her father very differently from the way an adult would.  This novel is set two decades after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird so of course Scout has grown up and now sees things differently.  She sees Atticus differently and notices things about him that she probably wouldn’t have noticed as a child.  Atticus still wants to do what is right but I think Scout is just able to finally see a different side of him as an adult.  I still found Atticus respectable even if I didn’t always agree with everything he said.  Also, just like many readers, Scout also has a lot of trouble rectifying the father she once knew with the new things she finds out about Atticus in this novel.  Scout’s struggle with this is one of the main plot points of the entire novel.

What I think is most poignant about this novel is that it very much pertains to all that has been in the news lately.  The difference between Atticus and Scout in this novel really highlights the conversations that are still taking place in our country.  The conversations between Atticus and Scout are still very relevant.  I think Scout’s plight in this novel is reminiscent of what many people of my generation are dealing with right now.  With all the talk about race in our country right now, I think many younger people are seeing elders that they always respected suddenly showing a very racist side.  Sometimes it is hard to grasp that the people you respect the most are not on board with what you think they should believe.  This book very much seems to me a big dose of truth and reality.

As far as writing, I really enjoyed the writing style.  Lee did a fantastic job.  There were some spots that were clearly not her best writing, however, that is something I could overlook considering that Lee wrote this years ago without the intention to publish it.  She supposedly requested that it finally be published without any changes or input from an editor and I think that has to be considered when judging her writing.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It was hard at times to read, especially if you are attached to the Atticus everyone knows from To Kill a Mockingbird like I am.  However, it is well-written for the most part and I believe it is a poignant and timely statement about racial relations in the U.S.  I gave it a four out of five stars and would definitely recommend it.

4 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

How We Keep the Romance Alive as Parents of Five

Daniel and I started dating a few months after my fifteenth birthday during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school  He is very much my high school sweetheart.  I married him when I was eighteen, just a few short months after I graduated from high school.

In the course of our almost twelve year marriage we have completed four college degrees between the two of us and welcomed five children to our lives.  Between full time jobs, college, and our kids and their activities, keeping our marriage and relationship healthy isn’t always the easiest task.

When we committed to each other through marriage we promised that we would always put each other first, even before our children.  Our children are extremely important to us and we make sure they have everything they need and are well taken care of mentally, physically, and emotionally.  However, in just a few short years (much sooner than I think I will be ready for!) our children will be adults.  When our children leave the house, it will be just Daniel and I.  We don’t want to spend those empty nesting years trying to repair a neglected marriage so we do our best to make an effort now to keep the flame alive and our relationship thriving.

As parents of small children, we struggle to find time together.  Date nights aren’t always a reality for us, especially since the youngest twins were born.  We don’t have many people in our lives who willingly volunteer or that we trust to keep all five kids so we can have dinner together.  Five kids, especially with two babies, can be overwhelming.  So, we do our best to only ask family to babysit if we have work obligations.

Since we don’t feel like we have reliable and readily-available babysitters most of the time we have started making efforts to carve out alone time at home.  I thought I would share how we are doing that as an inspiration to other parents of young children.

1. Date-Night In Box

After the babies were born last August, we were struggling.  I was dealing with a bit of postpartum depression and a stressful semester of graduate school on top of midnight feedings.  Daniel and I were having a hard time connecting.  By Christmas, we were barely talking most of the time.  We both recognized that we needed to refocus on us.  So my Christmas gift to Daniel was a subscription box called Date Night In.  

The Date Night In subscription box arrives once a month.  The box contains everything you need for a date night in with your spouse.  Each box contains the items needed to complete a specific activity, a treat to share, a recipe to cook and eat together, and something to set the mood.  The company also provides a play list to help set the mood as well.

The activities we received in the box have included all kinds of things from writing love letters to playing games together.  Every month is new and unique.  The box costs $34.99 a month plus tax and shipping.  They also have 3-month and 6-month plan that offers a bit of discount as well.  If you have the extra money for this each month, I highly recommend it.

I won’t lie.  The first few months were hard for me.  We were struggling so much that I really didn’t want to participate in the activities but I buckled down anyway and completed the activities included in the box. At this point, I think we both really look forward to getting a new box in the mail each month and completing the dates with each other once the kids are in bed.  It is a guaranteed Date Night In once a month!

2. Dinner for Two

Sometimes even if we can get a babysitter, a night out just isn’t in the budget.  Making a special dinner together for just the two of us is always a nice way to go.  If you have kids and can stand to have a late dinner, I highly recommended waiting to have dinner until after the kids are in bed.  Cook dinner together, light some candles, and enjoy a meal without your kids.

There are a ton of recipe books out there that cater to couples.  One of my favorites is Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship.  This book contains full menus to prepare together and enjoy a night in.  Of course, you don’t have to prepare the entire suggested menu.  Just a main course or an appetizer provides a nice quiet retreat.

3. Share a Sweet Treat

Sometimes it just isn’t feasible to cook a full meal so Daniel and I have been sharing desserts after the kids are in bed.  Sometimes he will run up town and bring back ice cream sundaes to share.

Sometimes we bake brownies or cookies and share them with a big glass of milk.  It is nice to curl up together on the couch, share a sweet treat, and have a quiet conversation.  If you need some ideas there are some wonderful cookbooks that have sweet recipes just for two.  Sweet & Simple: Dessert for Two is a great option!

4. Play a Game Together

My husband loves board games.  I’m not so crazy about them.  He is constantly trying to get me to play games with him.  I have put effort in over the past few years to play more games with him.  While games may not be your thing, they do bring some fun and laughs to your relationship.  There are plenty of two player games available out there.

Even if we aren’t together, Daniel and I play games.  We almost always have some sort of game going on our phones. Games are a good way to build companionship and keep the fun in our relationship.

5. Write Letters

Remember those love notes you wrote when you first started dating.  Keep writing them!  Even after being married for almost twelve years, Daniel and I still write each other letters and notes.  We don’t do it as frequently as we used to but getting a surprise letter from Daniel still makes my heart flutter.

Writing letters promotes better communication in your relationship as well.  When you write a letter you have to take the time to actually construct the sentences instead of just letting your thoughts flow out of your mouth.  Taking the time to think about what you want to say to your spouse usually results in more meaningful communication.

Daniel and I have also found that sometimes it is easier to write about something going on in our relationship instead of talking about.  Sitting down to write a letter keeps the emotions a bit less heated during those times that we are having a disagreement.

We actually keep a moleskin notebook that we have written letters to each other in over the years.  He will write me a letter and leave it on my nightstand.  I’ll respond and leave it on his.  Sometimes we keep up with this well.  Other times it falls to the back burner for us.  Writing letters definitely runs in cycles for us but it is an awesome communication tool.

Need More Ideas?

Still looking for more ideas to keep the romance alive?  There are some amazing books available that promote healthy relationships.  We recommend 52 Uncommon Dates: A Couple’s Adventure Guide for Praying, Playing, and Staying Together.  We also own both the husband and wife version of 100 Ways to Love Your Wife: A Life Long Journey of Learning to Love.

What are your favorite tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

 

The Girl on the Train

This book review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on April 28, 2015.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has been on several bestsellers lists for quite a while.  I’ve seen other avid readers raving about it and comparing it to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  I finally decided that I needed to jump on the bandwagon and pick this book up.

The Girl On The Train
The Girl On The Train

I ordered this book from Amazon and I was so excited when it arrived at my front door.  I dug into it pretty quickly and I have to say, it did not disappoint.  This book was fast-paced and hooked me fast.  The story starts by introducing Rachel, a young woman whose world has fallen apart.  She is divorced and was recently let go from her job.  She spends her days drinking and riding commuter trains into the city so her roommate won’t know she no longer has a job.  She spends so much time on the train that she begins to make up lives for the people that she passes each day.  And then one day she witnesses something that might help the police in a missing person case but with Rachel’s history concerning alcohol, the police aren’t sure they can trust her.

I can absolutely see how this book has been compared to Gone Girl.  While I see the similarities, I don’t think the plot twists were quite as stunning to the reader as it was in Gone Girl.  The Girl on the Train definitely has surprising twists and turns.  I just think the reader can predict some of them. However, I don’t think that it took away from the book.  I still enjoyed it and I didn’t figure everything out so there were still some surprises.

The writing was good but I didn’t find that anything special about it stuck out for me.  Hawkins did a good job helping the reader jump to conclusions about different characters.  She develops the characters well. Overall, it’s easy to read and Hawkins does a good job at keeping the reader engaged.

If you’re into murder, mystery, and crimes, or if you like books similar to Gone Girl, then pick up The Girl on the Train.  It’s a great read.  Overall, I rated it four out of five stars!

4 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

Station Eleven

This review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on March 14, 2015.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel follows a group of actors and musicians in a post-apocalyptic world who are trying to preserve the arts.  It all begins when a highly contagious, airborne virus sweeps across the world.  In a

Station Elevenmatter of weeks the majority of the world’s population has been eradicated.  The survivors are slowly making a new life for themselves but when the caravan of actors and musicians arrive in a town called St. Deborah by the Water, they meet a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who tries to leave the town.

I picked this book up for a few different reasons.  The first being that it was a National Book Award finalist.  The second being that it came highly recommended by several of my reader friends.   Reading this book was definitely a good call. My favorite thing about this book is its unique take on a post apocalyptic world.  It seems like most of the books in that genre that I have read in the past few years involve a strong, controlling government or authority or some kind of zombies or creatures to fear.  Station Eleven didn’t have those elements.  The characters live in a world that many of us can’t imagine but the most dangerous element of that world is the other people in it.  To put it simply, the world in Station Eleven seems like a much more realistic and plausible take on how the world could end up if something catastrophic occurs.

Station Eleven alternates between the past and the present as well as between the different characters’ point of view.  Mandel did a wonderful job at pulling this off.  It allows her to tell the story of how the virus spread and impacted the world while also letting us see how the people who survived ended up where they are. It was easy to follow and the different takes on the story line complimented each other well.  It was also a book that really pulled me in.  It held my interest and I read it rather quickly.

I enjoyed this book and Mandel’s writing so much that I rated this book a solid five stars.  If you enjoy post-apocalyptic stories but would like something a bit different from the typical book in this genre, check out Station Eleven.

5 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

1066: What Fates Impose

This review was originally posted on The Wordy Nerd Books on February 12, 2015.

In high school and college, I had several instructors who required their students to memorize dates for the history courses that I took.  One date that was always required was 1066.  As history major, I am very familiar with the

What Fates Impose
1066: What Fates Impose

Battle of Hastings so this book made it to my “to-read” list pretty easily. It probably would have stayed on my list of books to read for a bit longer, but when the author, G. K. Holloway, contacted me about reviewing the book I jumped on the opportunity.  Mr. Holloway provided me with a copy of his book which I greatly appreciate.

The first part of the book sets up the background history to the actual battle very nicely.  There is a lot of politics and history in this portion of the book.  The narrative follows several members of several families.  Holloway includes a character list at the beginning of the book which I was grateful for during the first half of the book.  It was nice that I was able to refer to the character list to help keep all the families and characters straight in my mind.  The first half of this book went a bit slow for me. I’m not sure if it was the actual book or the fact that I was studying for the GRE test and preparing to start my master’s degree in history.  Once I took the GRE exam, this book really picked up for me so I tend to think that the slow start was due to my own personal time management issues rather than the book itself.

The second half the book was a much easier read for me.  I was very engaged in the book by the second half and it just seemed to fly by.  Even though I knew how the story would end, I was still eager to keep reading.  Holloway did a fantastic job of vividly painting a gripping narrative of the Battle of Hastings.

Holloway’s writing was excellent.  The book flowed well and I found I could almost relate to some of the characters.  It is also very evident that he did his research.  It was not hard to see that he spent a lot of time delving into the history of this time period and the events in the book.  It is the first historical novel that I have read in a long time that I felt as if I was also getting a commentary on life during the time period.

If you are interested in historical fiction or British history, I highly recommend this book.  I gave it a solid four star rating.

4 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

Hello April!

Wow!  It has been almost a month since I have posted a blog entry.  This past month has just been crazy and busy, but good!

World Traveler

My last blog post was on March 15 and I boarded a plane early the next morning to head to Italy!  I had so much fun in Italy!

I visited Verona, Venice, Florence, Assissi, Pisa, and Rome.  When life slows down a bit, I plan to share a couple of posts about what I did in Italy, what I ate, and my tips for traveling in Italy. For now, I’ll just leave with you some pictures!

Graduate School

When I returned from Italy, I jumped head first into finishing up grad school which is why I neglected the The French Lemon bit. I turned my last paper in this past Wednesday! One final and a seven-hour comprehensive exam at the end of April that stand between me and graduation!  I’m so close but yet it still feels like so much work.  I recently ordered my cap and gown so things are starting to feel real!

Spring Sports

Spring sports are heating up!  Jackson and Emily have both started soccer and Jackson is also playing baseball.  Lauren and Emily are both still dancing three nights a week!  There is a little over a month until the dance recital and I am so ready for it.  It will be nice to have a break from dance classes in the evenings.Hello April Spring Soccer

With all the activities, we are constantly on the go right now.  Jackson and Emily both had their first soccer games this past Saturday…at the same time.  I was trying to watch both fields and catch both of them playing!  They both played well and were happy to be back on the field.

Growing Babies

Harrison and Katherine are growing so fast!  I can’t believe that they are going to be eight months old in just a couple of weeks.  Both babies have two bottom teeth.  Harrison is currently working on cutting his first top tooth.  He also started crawling last week!  Katherine doesn’t seem to have much interest in crawling just yet. Time slow down!

Books

Guess what?  Grad school has gotten close enough to wrapping up that I was able to take some time and read a book for pleasure!  I had almost forgotten what that felt like!  After I take my comprehensive exam on April 26, I plan to do quite a bit of reading and I can’t wait to share what I am reading with you!

Drop me a comment and tell me what you have been reading lately!

Hope you all have a Happy Easter this weekend!

 

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

This book review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on January 12, 2015.

Like much of the country, I recently found myself sucked into the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.  It ended up being one of those series that my husband and I binge-watched and really enjoyed.  After we finished the second

Orange Is the New Black
Orange Is the New Black

season of the Netflix series, I decided to pick up Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, which inspired the Netflix series.

Like the Netflix series, I really enjoyed Kerman’s memoir.  Her writing flows very well which made this book a pretty quick and easy read.  I found it easy to connect many of the characters from the book with the Netflix series even though the character names were changed for the series.  Kerman’s book was definitely not as action packed as the series but that is to be expected since this book is Kerman’s memoir and not written for ratings.

Kerman does a very good job in this book highlighting the problems with the prison system and showing what many of the people in prison go through.  I often think that middle-class Americans do not always recognize the struggles that many people in low socioeconomic situations go through and I think that Kerman did a wonderful job of putting some of that into words.  This book left me with a lot to think about.

Overall, I gave this book three stars.  While it is well-written and shines a spotlight on the plight of women in the prison system, it was a bit slow at times.  I also found Kerman to be a bit repetitive throughout this book.  If you haven’t watched the Netflix series yet, I would suggest reading the book first.  If you have watched the series, be aware that the events in the series are exaggerated greatly.

3 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).