Thursday, July 2, 2015

May/June Book Reviews

Just like last summer, I am on a mission to do lots of summer reading during these lovely summer months.  Although I only posted my reading list just a couple weeks ago, I started composing (and working my way through) the list about 6 weeks ago, so I am actually already several books in!

Here are reviews and ratings (1-5 stars) of what I have read so far. As I noted in an earlier post, take my recommendations with a grain of salt. I am not a literary critic or English professor - just a girl trying to enjoy some summer reading! Feel free to not like a book I like, or to like one that I did not enjoy!

The Stranger by Harlan Coben
Rating: 3 stars

Harlan Coben is an author I have never read before, but I really enjoyed this book.  It was full of suspense and surprisingly made you think about how much we don't know about others.  We are all hiding something that we would rather others not know, even perfect suburban housewives.  In this book, a stranger makes it his goal to expose people for their secret sins (or make money as they pay him to keep quiet).  The stranger sees it as a win-win - people come clean or he is paid.

I would definitely read another Coben book.  It's not going to be the most challenging novel you ever read, but the story is entertaining and suspenseful enough to keep you turning the page. It is a perfect metro read! I would definitely read this author again!

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Rating: 3.5 stars 

I am surprised how much I enjoyed this book. If you remember from my original description, June was my book club's "beach read" month -- pure chick lit.  This was an easy read -- except for the fact that there were about a million characters to keep up with!  The book entertained with each new page.  The premise is that there is a extremely exclusive, private wealthy circle of old Asia money in Singapore.  One of the wealthiest family's sons brings home his Chinese girlfriend from America and most of the family and friends make her life miserable. This book is dramatic and entertaining, but certainly nothing more! However, as someone who LOVES travelling, I loved the description of the different places in mainland China and the various islands.  This is a great beach or pool read for sure! I may even read the sequel! (which came out two weeks ago)

A Beautiful Messy Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman
Rating: 3.5 stars

I liked this book -- which is essentially tips with a ton of pictures and projects.  I may even try a few of the projects in our apartment.  I read and reread The Nesting Place last summer and was hoping this would be just as good (it wasn't).  It's a different type of book, not a lot of commentary and sentimentality, but a lot of help on project ideas.  As someone who appreciates creativity but often needs to be directed in how to be creative, I appreciated the ideas and hope to put myself to work soon! If you feel like your home could use a little sprucing up (on the cheap), check out this book!

Paper Towns by John Green
Rating: 3.5

I will be honest  - I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as his best seller, "The Fault in Our Stars."  Green is an excellent writer, but it seemed that the characters were all a little immature - and one in particular was quite selfish. However, then I realized that of course they act that way, they are teenagers! When reading young adult fiction, one can't be too disappointed if the characters act like teenagers! I still do appreciate "The Fault in Our Stars" more, but this book was entertaining and well written.  There is a bit of a mystery within it as well - as a group of friends is trying to find their runaway friends. Despite being overly dramatic, the book balances too ends of the spectrum in teen lives that we all face: (1) the attempt to fit into our worlds;  and (2) the annoyance of going through the motions (college, marriage, job, babies, etc) and the desire to do something else.  As a teen, who hasn't struggled with both the desire to fit in and the desire to flee our expected paths?

John Green is an excellent writer and this book will definitely entertain (even if you find it a bit over the top like I did).  Paper Towns will be playing in theaters soon, so it might be good to read it before you see it on the big screen!

Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
Rating: 5 stars

I love Shauna Niequist so much. Her words always touch my heart.  She writes about the mundane, the ordinary, the challenges and heartache and joys we all experience- but she makes them seem special and unique and beautiful.  My favorite Shauna book is Bittersweet (about growth and joy through the hard times) -- but this book, "Cold Tangerines", was pretty great too.  The book focuses on celebrating the good and wonderful in every day life.  I think it's so easy to fall into the trap of living from weekend to weekend, vacation to vacation, holiday to holiday.  I am a big fan of countdowns and anticipation - but how often do I overlook the beauty that comes from dinner, tv and cuddling with my husband - or laughter over Tuesday night happy hour with a friend? A perfect Saturday walk, successfully trying a new recipe or the pleasure that comes from a clean home?  I love summer because I feel like I have the time to slow down and read, go to movies, sleep in, enjoy the sunshine, sip wine on the patio, etc. This was a good reminder that the mundane, the everyday, is beautiful! I highly recommend this book (or any of her books, really!)

Paris Hangover by Kirsten Lobe
Rating: 2 stars

This was an "accidental" read, meaning I had considered it for my summer reading, but then eliminated it from the list. However, when it came time to order a beach read (I wanted a paperback, not a kindle read), I must have forgotten which books were on my "french reads" list because I ordered this one - and read it while in Florida.  I just today discovered that it was not on my list.

What I liked about the book: the premise.  A 34 year old woman gives up her great career, perfect boyfriend (well, perfect except for the fact that he does not want kids), fabulous NYC town home to move to Paris and pursue her dreams of being an artist and meeting a French man and starting a family. I loved reading about all the places she visited in Paris (I wish I had wrote them all down for our trip!) However, that's about all I liked about this book.

The main reason I would not recommend this book: it's a bit too dirty. Let me clarify, I am not a prude.  I understand that books will have sex scenes, but in this book, there was too much.  This girl went from boyfriend to boyfriend, from bed to bed.  Thankfully, the author wasn't too descriptive, but even so, I was a bit tired of hearing of the character's sex life!  Also, I was confused at how the character was managing to afford to live in Paris.  Sure, she had some savings - and she had downsized her lifestyle (small studio, no designer shopping) but she did not have a steady job.  The book refers to just a few paintings sold at a local gallery over a 2 year time span. Maybe I am too practical, but I find it hard to believe that she could afford fancy coffee at a cafe daily - or drinks at a swanky bar - without a stead income!

I will say this, though, despite her many flaws, the character was at least likable enough for me to want to finish the book. I wanted to know if she decided to stay in Paris or return home and if she ever met the right type of guy.  I would probably rate the book a bit higher if there was a little less friskiness and a bit more development of the facts (like how the h*ll she could afford her lifestyle!)

The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand
Rating: 4.5 Stars

This is one of my favorite reads so far this summer.  What I love about Elin Hilderband's books is that although they are beach reads, they are also thought-provoking and well-written.  The setting is Nantucket at a fine dining restaurant with a girl who is running away from her past and workplace romance.  That's about as beach read as it gets.  But, the characters are a bit more complex than your normal fluffy chick lit.  After reading this book, I am now obsessed with going to Nantucket (I may have looked up rooms....) and I regret never spending my summer working in a beach town! (Do you think Dave would let me do that now? haha!) My one complaint - the ending. It wasn't a particularly unhappy ending, but I just felt that the main character accepted everything that had happened and left it in the past, even without an explanation. I found it a bit unbelievable. However, the book as a whole was quite enjoyable!

What I have read/still have left to read: 

Book Club Books 
1. The Stranger by Harlan Coben
2. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (and *possibly* the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend)

Home and Marriage
3. The 7 principles for making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman
4. Eight Twenty Eight by Larissa and Ian Murphy
5. A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman

Southern Fiction
6. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
7. The Right Thing by Amy Conner
8. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

French Reads
9. Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
11. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
12. A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable
13. The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan 
ACCIDENTAL ADDITION: Paris Hangover by Kirsten Lobe

General Fiction
14. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
15. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
16. The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
17. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
18. Paper Towns by John Green
19. The Life Intended by Kristen Harmel
20. Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand

Religious Reads
21. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Quireshi
22. Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
23. Undone: A Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life

24. The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner
25. 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative by Dr. Paul Kengor

I am looking forward to tackling several books of my list during July -- starting with "The Girl on theTrain" !! If you are looking for me this weekend, you can find me by the pool, drink in one hand, kindle in the other hand!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Two Years, Two Lessons

A few days ago, Dave and I celebrated two years of married life together! In some ways, it seems like we have been married forever, but in a lot of ways,  it seems like just yesterday, we were doing this....

And this....

Year 2 brought a new job (Dave started at a new firm a few weeks ago), passed exams (5 down, 2 to go), tons of travels (NYC, Harper's Ferry, Canada, Rosemary Beach, State College), a paid off car note, savings for our one day home, a new apartment, tons of visitors, a new nephew, lots of growth, some heartache and loss - and lots of JOY and LAUGHTER!

Just a few of this year's memories....

Stealing Kisses

Harper's Ferry

Cherry Blossoms


Toronto, Canada

Rosemary Beach, FL

Macy's Parade, NYC

Valentines Day, State College

We celebrated a day early with dinner at Founding Farmers and Shake Shack for dessert.  I cooked us a good breakfast the next morning and we sat on the porch to eat and toast with our wedding flutes! We then spent the day being DC tourists!

2nd Anniversary!

I am still learning this whole "marriage" thing, so I don't have too much advice to offer yet. However, I will share two lessons I have learned to help keep our marriage happy and growing!

(1) Remember that each day in marriage is a blessing (and one that you are not promised)

One of the things that most helps me remain joyful in my marriage is that I spent most of my twenties not married. What I mean by that statement: I know that marriage is not promised. I know that there are men and women who would love to meet the right person to settle down with, but life has not happened just as they hoped.  I know there are widows/widowers who have to move on daily without their life partners. So, I also know that despite the cover stealing, bickering, chore sharing, finance discussing drama that marriage can bring, I am very lucky to be married to my sweet Dave.

Don't get me wrong -- there are moments where Dave irritates me incredibly (and probably far more moments where he can't stand me). But, when I start to complain or focus on problems in life and marriage, I try to remind myself how fortunate I am to have a great husband and how so many men and women are hoping to meet some one or are recovering from losing someone.  Often times, the thing we complain about is what someone else is what someone else longs for! And, at one point in time, this particular gift was something I longed for as well!

Marriage is a blessing - and I don't always see it that way, but when I remember how fortunate I am, my perspective towards my husband and the hassles of matrimony changes.

(2) Keep a long record of the good and short record of the bad.

Remember all the fun things about your marriage, all the kind things your spouse does, all the great dates and fun trips and flirty texts and sweet goodbye kisses.  Be thankful and appreciative of all these things. Be verbally appreciative and be reciprocal.  But, try not to hold on to the bad memories, fights, hurtful words. It's easier to keep account of the bad than the good, but the good is the stuff worth remembering!


Oh, and Have Fun! People talk a lot about how hard marriage is -- and it can be really hard (but then again, life - in general - is sometimes really hard.) but we often make it sound all "doom and gloom"  Marriage can also be a blast!   I recently filled out an "advice card" at a bridal luncheon with advice from the guests for the bride.  My last piece of advice was "Have Fun" because spending life with your best friend can be crazy fun.  And, it's those happy moments that get you through the tough ones.