February 16

Top Ten Tuesday: Books and Music

February 16, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish in which they select a topic every week, and the rest of us get to make Top Ten lists based on that topic. This week’s topic: This week is all about music & books! I love books that have incorporate music as a major theme is some way. Many possibilities were offered for this one, but I’ve decided to just give you the music-related books I have my eye on reading with the hope that you guys will point me in the right direction as to what I need to read soon!

Books I Already Own But Haven’t Read:

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff – Sam’s friend Hayden is dead and he uses his friend’s playlist for clues as to the reasons behind his death. I’ve met Falkoff in person, and I also want to support her by trying out this very intriguing-sounding novel.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord – I’ve heard great things about this book, and I could check another book off of my list for the Clean My Reader Challenge as well. I also love the idea of two women on a country music road tour. How fun!

King Dork by Frank Portman – Another author I met and adored for his quirkiness. Catcher in the Rye references as the basis of several mysteries AND rock and roll. What more can you ask for in a book?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – I’ve heard so many good things about this book, and I totally want to check it out but just haven’t gotten to it yet. Maybe soon?

Books I Need to Get My Hands On

Save Me, Kurt Cobain by Jenny Manzer – You have probably already heard me talk about this one! The title and cover sucked me in right away. A girl who thinks Kurt Cobain is her father and is still alive…..I feel this book call my name every time I see or read about it!

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino – A 9 year old who wants to make her debut at a famous jazz club after her mother dies. Intriguing, but I have definitely heard mixed review on this one. What did you think?

Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat – A teen turns to her beloved music to cope through the difficult times her family is enduring. This one isn’t calling my name as much as some of the others, but it is getting solid reviews.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan – A boy and a girl meet during a performance of a church choir. Their families intertwine before tragedy strikes. I haven’t heard much about this one, but I do have some interest.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – A bookworm and clarinet-playing band geek struggles to cope with the loss of her sister. I’ve heard so many great things about Nelson’s writing, but I have yet to read any of it!

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – No list highlighting books and music would be complete without High Fidelity. I’m not sure why I haven’t read this one yet!

Tell me what you think! Which book is a must read? What can I skip? Anything missing you think I should add?

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February 13

Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

February 13, 2016

From Goodreads:
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

This book has been on the bestseller list forever, and it made sooooooo many “Best of 2015” lists that I knew I wanted to check it out. After waiting forever for my hold to come in from the library, here are my thoughts:

On the Plus Side:

  • Groff has a beautiful style of writing. If you enjoy language above all else, then you will appreciate her style.
  • I loved the home featured in the second half of the book. I could totally see myself living in a house like Lotto and Mathilde’s.

On the Minus Side:

  • I found this book to have a VERY slow start, and the action never really picked up for me. If you are a fan of language and writing, then maybe you will appreciate this novel more, but I need some action…..something to keep me hooked on a book.
  • Most of the characters were truly annoying and I found it difficult to really connect with any of them….maybe Rachel, but she was a relatively minor character.
  • I had heard that the second half is much better than the first, which is why I hung in there on this book, but alas this was not true. This book was pretty boring from start to finish.
  • The end wrapped up a little too tidily for me (which if you know my reading style is a pet peeve of mine). I didn’t find it believable or enjoyable.

This book has WAY more hype than it deserves. In my opinion, there are far better books out there for you to enjoy (just peruse some of my other reviews to find something that will meet your needs). I am a little frustrated that I wasted so much time on this one!

Have you read Fates and Furies? What did you think?

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February 9

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Characters I’d Be Willing To Date

February 9, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish in which they select a topic every week, and the rest of us get to make Top Ten lists based on that topic. This week’s topic: Valentine’s Day is next week…let’s do a Valentine’s Day themed freebie! Since I’m single and carefree, I decided to do a post on literary characters that I’d be willing to go out on a date with (let’s pretend that all of the characters below are the exact same age as myself to make this a not creepy post :)). Here’s who makes the list:

Jake from Happiness for Beginners

Who doesn’t want to date this adventurous, compassionate, patient, humble, forthright hottie! This guy is definitely at the top of my list!

Forney Hall from Where The Heart Is

A guy who will look out for you and take care of you no matter what!

Everett Coburn from Nowhere But Home

A wealthy home town hero, and a nice guy to boot. Sign me up!

Lincoln Mallory from Girl Before a Mirror

A man who is there to support your dreams, can show you the finer things in life, and treat you like a queen. I’m willing to give that a shot.

Levi from Fangirl

Oh, sweet, sweet Levi! He also can make a mean mocha for me when I need one.

Olly from Everything, Everything

A well read man who can turn the most mundane of moments into an adventure. Who doesn’t want to talk all things books with this guy?

Mac Chatham from St. Anything

Another hard worker that looks out for his girl.

A.J. Fikry from The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Another man who not only knows his books but owns a bookstore! Hell yes I’m in. What a fun and quiet life this could be!

Daniel Cleaver from Bridget Jones’ Diary

I kind of adore his awkward demeanor. I also love how he is so very patient and kind and smart and successful.

Peeta from The Hunger Games

Who do you think I should add to this list?

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February 6

Let’s Celebrate Superbowl Weekend!

February 6, 2016

From nj.com
From nj.com

If you love football as much as I do, then this is one of the best weekends of the year! I love nothing more than hanging with friends and watching the Superbowl! Whether you are a football fan or not, I know you are a reading fan if you are here! For those of you who want to take part in the big weekend (whether or not you watch the big game or not), here are a list of reading suggestions to get your football fix. I have not read all of these books, but they do come highly recommended:

For Those Of You Who Won’t Be Watching The Game (Fiction Reads With A Little Football Thrown In):

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer – I love Palmer and I highly enjoyed this gem that takes place in a small Texas town that loves its football.

First & Then byEmma Mills – This looks like the perfect YA read for this weekend with a main character who loves hanging out at football games.

Some Classic Football Reads You’ve Heard Of:

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis – You’ve all heard of this classic that is also an award-winning movie that you could watch as well!

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger – If you were a fan of the TV show, now is the best time to check out the novel!

Some Memoirs of Iconic Football Players To Inspire You:

Never Die Easy by Walter Payton and Don Yaeger – One of the greatest football heroes of all time, and a Chicago Bear to boot!

I Beat The Odds by Michael Oher and Don Yaeger – The memoir from the man behind The Blind Side. On a side note, I realized as I was typing this that both of these memoirs were cowritten by the same man!

What football books would you recommend? Will you be watching the big game tomorrow?

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February 2

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Historical Settings

February 2, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish in which they select a topic every week, and the rest of us get to make Top Ten lists based on that topic. This week’s topic: Top Ten Historical Settings You Love. For those of you who know me, you know I love historical fiction. I love learning about different times, different places, and different lifestyles. Below you will find some of my favorite time periods to read about with some of my favorite books I’ve read from those time periods:

America During The Civil War

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The Late 19th Century/Early 20th Century

What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen – A look at the life on Marshall Field and his mistress set in Chicago!

Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott – I cannot even tell you how much I learned about Chicago and prostitution and life at the beginning of the 20th Century. Fascinating!

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – The story behind the illicit love affair that led to the end of the marriage of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Roaring 20’s

Dollface by Renee Rosen – Seriously…this book is the epitome of the Roaring 20’s for me. I so think I must have lived during this time period in a former life because I am so drawn to the stories from this time.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – A great read about the early marriage of Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

The Great Depression

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford – A story about an orphaned boy discovering his biological mother during the Depression.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko – I just loved the setting of Alcatraz Island, and I also loved a character that had autism before autism was a thing. A great middle grade read!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – If you ever want to learn a little more about circus life during the Great Depression.

Europe During World War II

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana DeRosnay

Japanese Internment During World War II

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – I learned so much about the Japanese Internment when I read this novel, and I am hoping at some point to pick up some more novels set during this time period.

America During The Civil Rights Movement

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Historical Fiction Novels That Span Time Periods

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline – I learned all about the phenomenon of orphan trains that existed during the year of 1854-1929. I had never even heard of the prior to reading this book!

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin – A novel of the life of the Lindbergh family set during the 1920’s-1960’s and told from the perspective of Charles Lindbergh’s wife Anne. Turns out that maybe Charles wasn’t the golden boy that everyone thought he was.

What time periods do you like to read about? Are there any historical fiction novels that you recommend?

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February 1

Book Review: Find Her by Lisa Gardner

February 1, 2016

From Goodreads:
Flora Dane is a victim.

Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure.

Flora Dane is a survivor.

Miraculously alive after her ordeal, Flora has spent the past five years reacquainting herself with the rhythms of normal life, working with her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. She has a mother who’s never stopped loving her, a brother who is scared of the person she’s become, and a bedroom wall covered with photos of other girls who’ve never made it home.

Flora Dane is reckless.

. . . or is she? When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape. And now it is all up to D. D. Warren to find her.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Penguin Random House, in exchange for an honest review. Here are my thoughts on finishing:

On the Plus Side:

  • I always enjoy a good mystery, and I think Lisa Gardner is a reliable author if you are looking for one. I’ve never been disappointed in a novel of hers.
  • Once I was drawn into the story, I found I had a hard time putting it down. I just wanted to figure out “whodunnit”, and I couldn’t wait.
  • The portrayal of Flora as a recovering victim felt very believable to me – I could see many victims coping in the same way that she did.
  • The pieces of this particular mystery line up very well. If you are paying attention to the breadcrumbs, you will be able to figure out many aspects of the story.
  • I did enjoy the ending. For me, it was believable yet unexpected – the perfect ending for a good mystery.

On the Minus Side:

  • This isn’t my first novel with Detective DD Warren, and even after all this time, I often find it difficult to connect with her character (and I felt it more in this novel that in previous ones). Although you see warm moments, she is often cold-hearted and methodical about her feelings….very different from me.

Overall, I definitely recommend this one if you are looking for a good page turner. Gardner does not disappoint!

What do you think of Lisa Gardner mysteries? Are there any books of hers in particular you would recommend?

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January 31

January 2016 Wrap Up: Loving My Downtime

January 31, 2016

I’ve had a great month, but I will admit that I have become a bit of a recluse this winter. I simply like my time on my couch to read or watch TV or blog or play Candy Crush Soda Saga (I thought I was giving it up in 2016, but that hasn’t happened yet). I’m guessing that I will become a bit more social as the weather warms up (or if you want to come and join me on my couch). In the meantime, here’s what’s been going on:

Jan At home

  • I went to see Star Wars with the fam! I’m not a die hard fan, but I really enjoyed the movie, and I totally want to go see it again!
  • I was able to see The Lion King again at the Cadillac Palace Theater for the first time in over a decade with my friends Luke and Vicky! It was just as good as I remembered, and we had a delightful dinner beforehand at Italian Village.
  • I fit in a couple of happy hours with different friends and coworkers, one of my favorite Friday activities (or any day of the week really).
  • We celebrated my friend Margaret’s birthday with an awesome dinner at Chicago Prime Italian. YUM!!!!
  • My niece was officially awarded her first degree black belt, which was exciting for our whole family. Look at her smile in this pic…..I simply can’t get enough of it.


  • Even though it was the #24in48 Readathon weekend, I went to my nephew’s hockey game since I had made the journey north for my niece’s black belt ceremony. He was able to play goalie (which he doesn’t do very often, and it took him a bit to get his rhythm), and it was fun to watch him! My family did a very quick lunch at Portillo’s between the two big events.


  • For the second time, I participated in the #24in28 Readathon. I beat my previous record with 13 hours this time around. It was so nice to just make the most of my time with reading (without feeling guilty about it).
  • I went to a wine tasting to celebrate my dear friend Jill’s birthday. Very good wine followed by a quick meal at Tap House Grill. I managed to only bring 3 bottles of wine home with me :).
  • I went to Kuma’s for the first time with my parents and YUM!!!!! You must go with a HUGE appetite and know that you will still come home with 2 more meals!

Jan Blogging

Jan Misc

  • I’ve made the decision – I’m getting rid of my cable. It’s just not worth it for what I pay and how I use it. Any advice or suggestions are greatly appreciated (thanks to my friend Daniel who had lots of input for me this week). I think next Monday will by my cut off date (I still have to call to make it final, but I know I will).
  • I haven’t really been working out like I should (ummmm….1 session of yoga won’t quite cut it), but I have been making some adjustments to my eating (although not as consistently as I would like). I’m not quite where I want to be overall, but I have made some overall improvements. Tomorrow starts a brand new week and a brand new month, and I plan to rock it out! I’m telling you all so that I am holding myself somewhat accountable.

What have you been up to this month?

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January 26

Top Ten Tuesday: Happy Hour Hangouts

January 26, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish in which they select a topic every week, and the rest of us get to make Top Ten lists based on that topic. This week’s topic: Freebie!!!! I sometimes struggle with coming up with a topic when the whole wide world of books is available to me. For those of you who know me, I love happy hour. It’s just a nice time to chill out with friends (and sometimes meet new friends along the way). So…..after much thought, I decided to give you my list of authors I’d love to go to Happy Hour with! Here’s who I’d enjoy getting to know a little better over cocktails:

Happy Hour YA

Alexandra Sirowy – I was able to spend some time with Alexandra at Anderson’s YA Literature Conference in October of 2015, and I enjoyed the time I spent with her. She has a very unique background that I would love to hear more about!

Trent Reedy – I met Trent at the Anderson’s YA Literature Conference in October of 2014, and he is truly one of the kindest, most down-to-earth guys I’ve met. I was so touched with his personal story, and I enjoy following him on Facebook. I’m hoping our paths will cross again someday at some point.

James Klise – Another author I met at the Anderson’s conference in 2014. James gave me so much encouragement with my writing, and he will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve had the chance to see him again at an event since he is a local Chicago author. I would love to chat more with him about working with kids, writing, and books in general!

Jennifer Niven – As you know, I soooooooo loved All the Bright Places. I follow Jennifer on Facebook, and I just love her appreciation of her fans, her love of her cats, her awesome bookish office, and so much more. I’d love to get to know her in person!

Happy Hour

David Arnold – Truth time – I haven’t yet read Mosquitoland despite the rave reviews and the autographed copy that calls my name every time I walk by it. But…….David was such a pleasure to meet at Anderson’s 2015, but even more…..he is a musician who lives in Nashville! I also love following him on Instagram. His love for his family is so clear!

Bill Konigsberg – I also met Bill at an Anderson’s YA Lit Conference in 2015, and I LOVED his novel The Porcupine of Truth. He is such an amazing voice for LGBT teens everywhere, and he is such a down-to-earth guy. I’d love to get to know hiHappy Hour Adultm a little more!

Liza Palmer – Liza’s writing speaks to my soul, and I just want to get to know her more. When I’m reading her writing, I sometimes feel like she is in my head! I’ve loved both Girl Before a Mirror and Nowhere But Home, and I look forward to reading more of her in 2016.

Suanne Laqueur – I’ve gotten to know Suanne a little over the last year while I read and reviewed her books. I think her writing is simply stunning, and I love how she is so open about her own personal mental health struggles. I would love to sit down and have a drink with her sometime and just connect on a more personal level!

Cheryl Strayed – Wild was such a powerful read for me, and I love the honesty and frankness with which Cheryl conducts her whole life. She is a powerful voice for so many people, and I truly believe she is making a difference in this world with her writing.

Renee Rosen – One of my very favorite authors of all time, and she happens to be local. I became familiar with Renee on a fluke while going to see another author at an event. I immediately fell in love with Renee, her writing, and just her way of interacting with her fans. I think she is awesome, and I’d love to hang out with her more often!!

Who would you like to go to Happy Hour with?

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January 24

Book Review: George by Alex Gino

January 24, 2016

From Goodreads:

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all. 

I’ve had my eye on this book for awhile, and when I was doing my random browsing at the library, it happened to be sitting right on the shelf calling my name. I decided it would be a perfect #24in48 Readathon book, and I was right. Here are my thoughts:

On the Plus Side:

  • This is a fabulous introduction to transgenderism for all age levels. It helps all people understand the thoughts and feelings of a 4th grade transgender student.
  • I loved all of the connections to Charlotte’s Web (which I just happened to be reading for work at the time I read this….simply by coincidence).
  • I think the reactions of the adults and peers in George’s life were realistic. Some peers will be accepting, some will have a hard time understanding. As far as his mom and brother, they loved him, but they also had to go through their own process of learning and acceptance.
  • Kelly is such a great example of an accepting, positive peer role model. I would love to work with students like Kelly and George.
  • I love that this book focuses on an elementary school student…an age when this is likely to be introduced. Elementary students will definitely be able to identify with the story behind this one.

On the Minus Side:

There were no minuses for me on this one. I highly recommend it if you are looking for an introductory presentation of life as a transgender 4th grader.

Have you had the opportunity to read George? What did you think?

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January 21

Book Review: Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin

January 21, 2016

From Goodreads:
Like an urban Dian Fossey, Wednesday Martin decodes the primate social behaviors of Upper East Side mothers in a brilliantly original and witty memoir about her adventures assimilating into that most secretive and elite tribe.

After marrying a man from the Upper East Side and moving to the neighborhood, Wednesday Martin struggled to fit in. Drawing on her background in anthropology and primatology, she tried looking at her new world through that lens, and suddenly things fell into place. She understood the other mothers’ snobbiness at school drop-off when she compared them to olive baboons. Her obsessional quest for a Hermes Birkin handbag made sense when she realized other females wielded them to establish dominance in their troop. And so she analyzed tribal migration patterns, display rituals, physical adornment, mutilation, mating practices, extra-pair copulation, and more. Her conclusions are smart, thought-provoking, and hilariously unexpected.

Every city has its Upper East Side, and in Wednesday’s memoir, readers everywhere will recognize the strange cultural codes of powerful social hierarchies and the compelling desire to climb them. They will also see that Upper East Side mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want: safety, happiness, and success;and not even sky-high penthouses and chauffeured SUVs can protect this ecologically released tribe from the universal experiences of anxiety and loss. When Wednesday’s life turns upside down, she learns how deep the bonds of female friendship really are.

Intelligent, funny, and heartfelt, Primates of Park Avenue lifts a veil on a secret, elite world within a world: the exotic, fascinating, and strangely familiar culture of privileged Manhattan motherhood.

I’m always intrigued with memoirs that reflect a lifestyle that I am not very familiar with. When I saw this one was available on audio, I decided to give it a shot. Here are my thoughts after finishing:

On the Plus Side:

  • I definitely gained perspective on what life is like on the Upper East side of Manhattan (which I learned is very different from the Upper West side). Some things were not surprising, but some tidbits were definitely unexpected (which I like).
  • I liked that Martin compared her experiences to anthropological and cultural research. It made for some very interesting comparisons and potential life lessons learned. At times, I was a little bored listening to the “field notes” or research, but it did add to the overall feel of the story.
  • I learned a great deal about expensive fashion, restaurants, workouts, parties, property, and more.
  • Martin is clearly a highly intelligent and well put together woman. I hope she was able to maintain some of her down-to-Earth perspective as her life progressed, despite the fact that she seemed to be losing quite a bit of it the longer she stayed on the Upper East side.
  • The book made me so very grateful for my life and the people who are in it. I never have to doubt that the people I surround myself with will be there for me when I need them!

On the Minus Side:

  • There were moments when I was extremely frustrated listening to Martin complain about her period of adjustment. Why would someone even want to move to a place where people treated others so horribly and competition and stress were so high for not only yourself but your children. It is a mindset that I have difficulty understanding.

Overall, I thought this was a fair book. I enjoyed many of the tidbits I learned (ask me about my thoughts on Botox after reading the book), but I found myself very frustrated at other moments. I think this was perfect on audio – I’m not totally sure I would have stuck with it in paper form.

What did you think of the Primates of Park Avenue? What other books do you recommend for exposing oneself to a lifestyle that’s different from one’s own?

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