Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 Recap

Welcome to the end of 2014. What a great year of reading this has been. Every year gets better and better as I better learn what I enjoy in a book. I found some real treasures this year, and had a fun last month of reading. I finished...

Going into the new year, I'm reading:

I've been spending my Christmas break reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a re-read, actually) and Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time. No Ordinary Time is a slow go, but it's thorough. I've been reading all week, and I've only gotten to the spring of 1941.

Kid Presidents is a good children's book about the presidents as kids.

Before I left the library for vacation, Ted Kooser's Splitting an Order came in. I immediately put my Personal Notificaion in it for expediated processing. I enjoy Kooser's poetry a great deal, and this book has been an enjoyable read.

What are you reading going into 2015?

I have several more end of the year and best of posts coming in the next few days. And I still have a number of 2014 reviews to post as well. So stay tuned.

Happy New Year, all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Countries Visited this Year in My Reading

I love to read global nonfiction. History, family travel, living abroad, politics and foreign policy—they’re all favorite topics of mine. Last year I found a tool to help you create a map of where you’ve been. This year I've created another a map of where I’ve traveled “virtually” including last year's and this year's countries.

Red indicates countries visited in 2013 & 2014.

2014 Countries:
North Korea
Saudi Arabia
United Kingdom
United States of America

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Best Children’s Picture Books

Something had to give this year when I got so far behind with book reviews. Unfortunately, it was my children’s reviews that didn't get done. I read 81 children’s picture books this year, both the hot 2014 releases and a lot of older books I ran across on blogs or in the library’s collection.

Here are my top 21 favorites of the year:

Ball, Mary Sullivan
Blizzard, John Rocco
Count the Monkeys, Mac Barnett

Do Unto Otters, Laurie Keller
Duck & Goose, Tad Hills
The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, Mo Willems

Flora and the Penguin, Molly Idle
How Big Were Dinosaurs?, Lita Judge
If  You Want to See a Whale, Julie Fogliano

Iggy Peck, Architect, Andrea Beaty & Rosie Revere, Engineer, Andrea Beaty
Imogene’s Last Stand, Candace Fleming

Little Blue Truck, Alice Schertle
No Roses for Harry, Gene Zion
Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World), Mac Barnett

Penny and Her Marble, Kevin Henkes
The Scrambled States of America Talent Show, Laurie Keller
Skippyjon Jones, Judy Schachner

Sophie’s Squash, Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf
The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf
Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library, Barb Rosenstock

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!



Christmas is God's revelation of love to the world.
May the peace of the Savior be in your heart now and guard it throughout the new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Drop Dead Healthy, A.J. Jacobs

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection

A.J. Jacobs

Category: Nonfiction: Science; Biology; Humor

Synopsis: Jacobs tries to improve himself one body part at a time.

Date finished: 21 October 2014

Rating: ****

I adored A.J. Jacobs first two books, The Know-It-All and A Year of Living Biblically, but I detested his third, My Life as an Experiment. In the first two, he read the whole Encyclopedia Britannica and lived according to every rule of the Bible. In the third, he tried several experiments to make his life easier. One was to outsource his life. I’m fully convinced that he outsourced the writing of that book. It was definitely not up to the standard set by his first two books.

Gratefully, this one was. I’d put off reading it for two reasons: I was afraid it would be as bad as My Life… and secondly, I tend to stay away from health-related material. But a work friend assured me this one was as absurd and funny and informative as his previous work, and when I found a copy for $2.00 at a used bookstore, I figured I’d give it a whirl.

In all of Jacob’s work, he sets out to transform his life. In his first two books, he tries to improve his mind and his spirit, and in this book, he focuses on his body. Now, I’m someone who doesn’t use doctors or medicine, not so much as a vitamin tablet. But there is a lot more to health than prescriptions and annual exams. And Jacobs talks about all of it. And I have to say, I loved it.

I believe he carried this study out for two full years. Each chapter focused on a different body part or aspect of health (heart, ears, skin, bladder, teeth, adrenal system, etc. etc.). He worked to lose weight, lower blood pressure, and feel healthier. For humor’s sake (and Jacobs IS funny), he will perform an outrageous activity or meet with a health guru who generally takes things further than your average person would (the barefoot runners, extreme chewers, finger fitness gurus). Then he’d bring the discussion back to the mainstream and try more traditional methods. He also included a lot of research to balance out the extremity and pop medicine in other parts of the book.

I could feel that Jacobs was into this project. Whereas his last book (I swear this is the last time I’ll bring it up) was just too weird and free-range, this one was focused and well-plotted. It was even more that way than his first two books. This didn’t feel as much like a stunt as his other work. Maybe Jacobs is finally maturing?

What did I come away with? (Other than a bunch of great one-liners and bits of trivia and pop physiology such as: your lungs weigh 11 pounds; since your body has to heat icy beverages, you burn one calorie for every ounce of ice water you drink; white adults have an average of 30 moles on their bodies; one of the inventors of Lasik wears glasses because he’s wary of taking the risk…) This book teaches one about balance. It’s not possible to follow all the advice about diet and health and exercise, so people must choose what seems logical for them. I was also struck by the Number One Rule of Doctors and Health Care (my phrase, not Jacobs’): Doctors don’t agree. You can find someone to back up any health claim or cure. Paying too much attention can make you nutty.

I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I’m happy to report that I’m back on the A.J. Jacob’s train, and I eagerly await his next adventure.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
The Know-It-All
A Year of Living Biblically

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hungry Planet, Faith D'Aluisio & Peter Menzel

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
Faith D’Aluisio & Peter Menzel (photos)

Category: Photojournalism; World Cultures

Synopsis: D’Aluisio and Menzel take you around the world to explore what and how people eat.

Date finished: 1 September 2014 

Rating: *****

This is one of my favorite books. I read it several years ago, and since then I’ve really wanted to read it again. I enjoyed it just as much on the re-read as I did originally.

The book is hard to categorize. You might say it’s photojournalism, I guess. That’s the term I settled on. It’s a husband and wife team who travel to six continents, 24 countries total, and select a family in each location to chat with about what they eat. The couples’ experience with each family is presented as an essay and is accompanied by sidebars and various photos of the family and their country. But the pièce de résistance is a large photo of the family with a full (artfully-arranged) display of everything they eat and drink in a week. With countries as diverse as Chad, Cuba, Japan, Iceland, Ecuador, and Australia, those pictures really do speak a thousand words.

The amount of cultural interest in this book is astounding. The authors also include some heavy-handed essays on global issues, which I could take or leave. But those photos and personal observations which are as free of bias as possible, are stellar. I learn something new every time I pick up this book, and I’m sure I’ll go through several more times over the years. It really prompts some soul-searching about haves and have nots, about hunger and obesity, about what we eat and who we are because of it. Compare the vegetable-heavy diet of the Okinawans, considered the people with the longest life expectancy, with the amount of Coca-Cola consumed by the Mexican family. Compare the meager rations of the Sudanese refuges with the excessive fast-food diets of the American and Australian families.

There is just so much to learn here. I think this would be a great book to go through with children as young as grade school. It’s eye-opening for young and old alike.

And I dare you to read this book and NOT imagine what your weekly groceries would look like fanned out on your kitchen table!

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Anyone who is interested in world cultures, food, cooking, family dynamics, and global issues will love this book.

You might also enjoy:
Material World: A Global Family Portrait (the same idea but with possessions instead of food)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Favorite Things, 2014

Katie at Words for Worms recently asked why "My Favorite Things" was considered a Christmas song. I've always wondered that, too. But then, the song gives a nice little lead-in to my favorite 2014 discoveries, so I'm going with it. Cue Julie Andrews....

1. Bedroom carpet
Husband and I have been talking about getting bedroom carpet for the over three years we've been in our house. The room has hardwood floors, but it's a north-facing room that's very cold. The previous owners were nice enough to leave us a big area rug, but we really kinda hated the rug. So for our anniversary, we told ourselves we were going to replace it.
   Do you know how expensive large rugs are? My goodness. So we ended up buying the softest, cooshiest remnant we could find and bought a good padding to lay under it. We cut it to size and that was it. It's a pleasure to walk across the room now.
   On a side note, I chose green because I love green and the bedroom is painted green, but after paying for it, I realized I'd just committed a cardinal rule of decorating: green is the hardest color to match. But you know what? I've got mad carpet-matching skills, because it was a dead on perfect match.

2. Bo learning to ride a bike
We've been trying to teach our grandson, Bo, to ride a bike for several years now. Finally, this spring something clicked and he just learned one night and he was off like the wind. I'd felt bad that he was 8 and didn't know how to ride. Even though I was *ahem* 30 when I learned.

3. My new jewelry box
I've been looking to replace my huge "jewelry armoire" for years now, but I couldn't find just the right box to replace it with. I happened up the perfect thing this fall and ordered it for about a fourth the list price. Now it's out of stock. I'm not sure if they'll get more or not, but this puppy is worth every penny. Beautiful leather (I bought the espresso version), optional monogram (yes, please), LOTS of room. Bought from Red Envelope. Note: It is large--about the size of small dorm fridge.

4. Clementine
Do you follow strangers' blogs only to feel like a part of the family after awhile? No. Just me? Anywho...This wonderful family just adopted their eighth child from China. They've named her Clementine, and she's the sweetest, happiest baby I've seen. Follow their story and you'll be hooked. (If beautiful photos of beautiful kids is your thing, this site will absolutely slay you.)

5. Laura Hillenbrand
I read both Seabiscuit and Unbroken this year, and I am over the moon for Laura Hillenbrand. Period.

6. Downton Abbey
I usually come to things a little late (see item 2), so now that season 5 is set to begin, I've become addicted to Downton Abbey. The beauty, the splendor, the DRAMA. Thank you, PBS. (And thank you hubby for buying me the first four seasons.)

7. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
Had I a choice in who I married, I might have married a documentary film maker. Or someone who comments in one. Or writes reviews one. Anyway. I loved this documentary SO much. I hope someone buys it for me for Christmas.

8. Thom McAn loafers
(Am I the only one who squeals over loafers?) I have to tell you, I hate shoe-shopping, and I always will. Nothing is ever comfortable enough for me. But then I discovered Thom McAn leather loafers--and bought three pairs.

9. Cincinnati Chili
I've been meaning to try Cincinnati Chili for years now. I mean, chili with chocolate and cinnamon in it? That you put over spaghetti noodles? It was either going to be love or disaster. I used this recipe, and as one reviewer suggested, I boiled the beef in the broth (it looks gross, but it's worth it) and let it break down first. Thank you, Ohio, for your presidents and your chili recipe.

10. Girl time
I have one of those marriages where the couple spends every available minute together. We miss each other when we leave the room to use the bathroom. And yet, it was becoming more and more obvious that for various reasons I need a little more time alone. So we've instituted "girl time" in which my husband is banned from the house for several hours a week so I can do my thing without loud electric guitar or other boyish interruptions. Yummy.

What's on your list of 2014 discoveries?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

Erik Larson

Category: Nonfiction: History; Biography

Synopsis: Larson paints a picture of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as well as a mass murderer in the Fair’s neighborhood.

Date finished: 3 October 2014

Rating: *****

With The Devil in the White City, you’re getting two books in one. One is a true crime tale of mass murder and madness. The other is a history of the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair whose official name was World’s Columbian Exposition, honoring the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America.

Let’s discuss the Chicago World’s Fair first. Twenty-seven million visits were recorded at the fair. This is at a point in time when the country’s population was only 65 million, and Chicago’s population was just over one million. Politicians came, celebrities came, royalty came. Everybody came to the world’s fair. Daniel Burnham coordinated the building project. Many buildings were constructed by a team of the country’s best architects—which means there was a lot of talent and a lot of ego in one room. Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape creator of Central Park, among other high-profile grounds, did the landscape architecture. George Washington Gale Ferris created the Ferris Wheel in an effort to out-Eiffel the Eiffel Tower, which was created for a prior world’s fair. Things that were introduced at the world’s fair: the zipper (!), the electric kitchen, Cracker Jack, Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix, Juicy Fruit, Shredded Wheat, the vertical file (created by Melvin Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System), and the fair’s top beer would hereafter be known as Pabst Blue Ribbon. The fair alone consumed three times as much electricity as the whole city of Chicago.

In short, this was a big deal. And what goes up must come down. That’s right, this was all meant to be temporary.

Story two is the chilling serial murderer H. H. Holmes who lures folks to his mansions with his proximity to the fair. He generally prefers young female victims, but he also murders men and children. He admitted, at one time, to killing 27 people, but some of those were proven alive. Estimates of his victim count top out at 200. Only nine homicides were proven. Thanks to a savvy detective who followed Holmes’ trail and his own hunches, he was convicted and put to death.

I kept waiting for the two stories to intersect, and they never did. They were concurrent in time, but Holmes never brought his brutality to the fair (though he did attend). I could have done without the murder part of the story altogether given the fact that it never tied into what I saw as the larger story—the Chicago fair.

But really, I can’t be too disappointed. The writing was superb, engaging, riveting at times. Larson is a master of leaving a cliffhanger at the end of every section to keep you reading “one more page.” I love my history trivia, and I was certainly not disappointed here. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a good story that’s part history, part mystery—as long as you can stomach a few grisly murders, too.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Killing Patton, Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General
Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard
Category: Nonfiction: Biography; History

Synopsis: Explores the World War II career of General George Patton as well as his suspicious death.

Date finished: 9 October 2014

Rating: ****

Like Killing Kennedy, Killing Patton is full of history and trivia. I learned so much about World War II, its key players, its battles, and General George Patton. Killing Patton is the fourth in Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s “Killing…” series of biographies. Here, they investigate General Patton’s death and point to evidence that the accident that killed him was likely no accident at all.

Now, for most in my generation, knowing who Patton was is about as far as they could go. Who cares, really, how the general was killed? But there’s something about this story that appealed to me since the moment I heard Patton was to be the fourth in the series. Why was he killed? The war had ended, what would anyone have to gain? I don’t want to spoil things, but suffice it to say, Patton was a very outspoken man. He voiced his opinions loudly, brazenly, and frequently. He thought it was essential that Germans to be a part of the post-war reconstruction in their country. And he warned that after the war we should assume a war-like stance with the Russians. Russia was to be our next great foe. How right he was. And how very much some wanted to hush him.

But aside from Patton, his battles, and his death, the book is full of mini-biographies of other World War II personalities: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall. It’s a great timeline of the war and was a welcomed refresher to me. The Battle of the Bulge was discussed, though I still don’t understand it militarily. We also learn of the way Eisenhower capitulated to our Allied-enemy Russia when taking the Rhineland and Churchill and Roosevelt’s likeminded-ness and differences of opinion when it came to what Europe would look like after the war. (Churchill was much more in line with Patton’s fears in regards to Russia.)

This one will appeal to war buffs, veterans, and those interested in history. It’s written in such a way to appeal to a mass—though not uneducated—audience.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Killing Kennedy

Monday, December 15, 2014

Belles on Their Toes, Frank Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Belles on Their Toes

Frank B. Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir; Parenting & Families

Synopsis: Reeling after the death of their husband and father, the Gilbreth clan moves on with humor and grace.

Date finished: 14 October 2014

Rating: *****

How I wish there were more than two of these Gilbreth family books.* They’re hilarious. And they’re full of family values from another era—which a lot of us still practice in this era.

Belles on Their Toes is the follow-up to Cheaper by the Dozen, which inspired a movie decades ago but bears little resemblance to the Steve Martin/Bonnie Hunt movies. Cheaper by the Dozen ends with the death of Mr. Gilbreth. This book picks up where it leaves off. Raising 11 kids (one of the 12 died years before but it isn’t really mentioned in the original book) in the early 1900s isn’t going to be easy for Mrs. Gilbreth. She continues on with the efficiency work she and her husband did before his death. In an era where women didn’t hold jobs out of the home, she had a lot to prove—and a lot to juggle. The family, already very close, really pulls together.

This book was just as funny and full of heart as the original. It follows the kids into adulthood with a number of humorous family stories throughout the years. This would be a great book for tweens who are into more traditional literature (the Anne of Green Gables and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn crowd). While some of the references are so outdated I don’t know what they’re talking about, there’s never anything objectionable.

*These are written by the children when they are adults.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Cheaper by the Dozen