Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Sorry, today was a day… I meant to get this up sooner. I'm sure all five of you who religiously read this were anxiously awaiting my post (ha).

Night of the Soul Stealer (The Last Apprentice, Book 3)
Reviewing book series is really annoying, so bear with me. This one and the next are in the Last Apprentice series. They were a good connection to the previous books and still very interesting. This is described as a darker Harry Potter and while it's written for younger kids, I would definitely agree that it's darker than the earlier Harry Potter novels. I like these!
Attack of the Fiend (The Last Apprentice, Book 4)

The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War
I really enjoy books about soldiers and the lack of mental health support because I always hope that they will bring about change. This book is about Mark and Carol Graham and their plight to change this very issue. Their middle son, Kevin, committed suicide while still in college with army aspirations. Their oldest son, Jeff, was killed in action in Iraq shortly after. Although Kevin was not technically in the military at the time of this death, the differences between reactions to Jeff's death and Kevin's death drove Mark and Carol to try to seek help for military members and remove the terrible stigma around mental health issues. Mark is a two-star Army General and was well-placed to view the struggles faced by many and the way they're viewed within the armed services. It is heartbreaking. Men are harassed for admitting that they're struggling during or after a war, when the reality is that PTSD is a serious issue. This book chronicles what's been done and what's left to do (spoiler alert: a LOT). As hard as this was to read, I believe that it's extremely important.

The Keep
Recommendation from Barb. Two cousins are reunited after an act of childhood mischief goes horribly awry. Woven seamlessly within these chapters is the story of Ray, chronicling an incident for his prison writing class, spinning reality into fantasy (or vice versa). What I really enjoyed about this story is that reality and fantasy were seamlessly woven together, leaving you wonder what was real and what wasn't. I did not enjoy how the ending just kind of lost momentum, it seemed, but it was still overall a very engaging read.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Ashfall (Ashfall Trilogy)
The librarian at my school passed this book on to me because she said it was good and she wanted me to vet it with regard to if we should put it on the shelf. (Disclaimer: I fundamentally disagree with censorship, but in a middle school, parents do and will complain if they think a book is not appropriate, so you need to make sure you have arguable reasons for why that book is okay before it goes over your head. Disclaim part 2: This is why Looking for Alaska by John Green is not out in our school library.) The premise of this book is that the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone erupts, blanketing much of the Midwest (and possibly beyond) under ash and spiraling the country into a seemingly endless winter. Alex, initially looking forward to a weekend left alone at home, is left scrambling and struggling to survive as a teen in a rapidly changed world. He sets out on the road to find his parents and sister, finding that danger is everywhere in this new, ash-covered world. What I liked about this book is that I truly thought it went deeper than most YA post-apocalyptic books. It covered cannibalism. Rape. Violence. The reality of birth control in a world where you can't go to a pharmacy. It struck me as fairly realistic, with some stretches. Overall, I enjoyed it.

The Good Girl (English Edition)
Mia Dennett has struggled her whole life, as the daughter of a prominent Chicago judge who wanted nothing more for her to be a lawyer while she wanted nothing more than to study art. One day, Mia doesn't show up to work. A coworker contacts her mother, who contacts the police and explains that she hasn't talked to Mia in awhile, but that's not unusual. As the book unfolds, it is told from the perspective of Mia's mother Eve, Mia, Gabe (the detective assigned to the case) and Colin (the man who abducted Mia). The tale switches from before Mia's abduction to after Mia's abduction but is fairly seamless. It is interesting to watch as everyone gives their own input and it becomes apparent that there is much more to the story than it seems. Although there are multiple narrators, this book rang of an unreliable narrator. It definitely hooked me.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
It is really hard to understand why, when someone is stuck in a cycle of poverty or abuse or drugs, they cannot leave the cycle as easily as it may seem. Robert was a boy with a great deal of potential, whose mom sacrificed a great deal. When she saw that he was not being challenged in the rough public schools of their neighborhood, she sacrificed what she could to send him to private school. She gave all that she could to watch her baby boy leave the slums of Newark and make it to Yale, where he studied microbiology. And yet, Robert couldn't break the chains of the cycle, ending up shot to death by a drug dealer at the age of 30. It's so hard to understand why someone who found a remove from that life ended up back in that life, with a four year degree from YALE, of all places. However, the author--Robert's Yale roommate--makes it so we don't so much question the how as the why. Knowing how the book would end, I spent much of it saying, "No, Robert. Don't do this to yourself." And yet, it happened. A success story becomes a statistic in the blink of an eye, in a chain of wrong decisions. This was a powerful read.

The Last Apprentice: Curse of the Bane (Book 2)
This is book 2 in The Last Apprentice series. It is very hard to review books in a series. Like the first one, Thomas continues to learn from the Spook, yet he has gained more instincts to trust his own judgments, as well. These are very easy enjoyable reads and would be great for YA readers who love magic or mythology.

What are you reading?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cedar Point HalloWeekends Giveaway

**True Random Number Generator
Min: 1
Max: 7
Result:
2

Congratulations to comment #2, Kristin, and thanks to all who entered!**


I have a really great giveaway for those of you who live in the vicinity of Cedar Point! As the season is winding down to a close, Cedar Point has graciously offered to provide one of my readers with four tickets to visit Cedar Point on any one of the remaining weekends of the season (November 1st would be your last chance to use these tickets).

What happens on HalloWeekends? Family friendly fun, such as parades and not-so-scary haunted houses, for the younger set. Mazes and scare zones for the older set. And of course, you have all the usual rides and thrills that are offered at Cedar Point. To see more of what Cedar Point has to offer, read about our visit this May. The boys have been asking to go back ever since, and they cannot wait for our own HalloWeekends trip!

To enter this giveaway, all you need to do is tell me your favorite part of the fall/Halloween season. For me, it's a toss-up between candy corn being readily available and Halloween itself. I love Halloween and always have--it's just such a fun time! If you would like to earn an extra entry, tweet or Facebook about this giveaway and leave the link in the comments.

Since this is a time-sensitive giveaway, I will be choosing the winner on Wednesday, October 15th, so hurry and enter!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

The Bone Clocks: A Novel
This book. I don't know where to begin. Well, let me start with this: Amazon had mostly positive reviews so take me with a grain of salt. I loved the first 200-300 pages. Loved them. I was connected to the characters. I loved the storyline. And then...it was miserable. I finished it because I had already read the half the book, but seemingly, the characters I became connected to didn't matter that much in the grand scheme of evil forces trying to take over the world. Then why did I need all that backstory?! Why? What was the point? I was so thankful to finish this one that I had a tough time picking up another book because it was such an awful, frustrating read. A week later, I can't even really tell you what it was about, except that some people hear other people, whether living or dead, and some people when they die, they don't really die, they inhabit another body and their soul lives on but it's not really like reincarnation totally because sometimes they can kill someone to take their body or they find a person who is dying already and that's all I remember. DONE. If you read this book and liked it, please tell me why.

The Paying Guests
This was a lengthy book, which made me nervous because the last one was, too. However, this did not disappoint. Part period piece, part thriller, this tells the story of Frances and her mom, forced to take it lodgers ("paying guests") after the death of Frances' dad. At first, France's is reserved and vows to keep a difference, then she allows her guard to lower and finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of love and anger. I stayed up late to finish this one. Although it starts slow, the pace picks up about halfway through and grabs you.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
I love Margaret Atwood but don't love short stories. However, this book did not disappoint. The first half featured short stories with interconnected characters, which I love. The second half was fantastic, as well. Some chilling, some realistic. The title piece focused on a woman who was wronged, horribly, by a high school "boyfriend." Decades later, she tracks him down on a cruise, intent to kill. My favorite was probably "Torching the Dusties," told from the point-of-view of a mostly blind woman in a retirement home, living in a world where people have uprisen against the elderly. It was unsettling, to say the least.

The Last Apprentice (Revenge of the Witch)
Shane started reading this series, so I thought I would check it out. Very enjoyable! In this world, a Spook is the man who guards towns from evil spirits, witches, boggarts and others. Although the Spook is necessary, no one likes to be near him, so Thomas(The seventh son of a seventh son and 30th in the line of boys who have tried to be the Spook's Apprentice) is naturally cautious about his new job as the Spook's Apprentice. This book details his early adventures of learning and sometimes failing. It was a quick, easy read and I'm interested in the next.

What are you reading?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Golden Tote September Review

So, I've been kind of fixated on the idea of a clothing subscription box for awhile now. I hate going to the mall or similar places because I always, always run into students. Or I buy a maxi skirt at Target and some girl shows up wearing the same maxi skirt and then we're both embarrassed (like the episode of Full House where DJ is wearing the same sweater as her nerdy teacher).
Everyone has been into Stitch Fix, but it didn't strike me as my thing. One, I would constantly see people complaining about their fixes. Two, the whole "keep this, keep that, or send this back" thing isn't my style. Too much math. Too many post office trips. Not interested. I also saw quite a few reviews where people realized the price was the same or more than stores.

Then I heard about Golden Tote and was definitely interested. Like Stitch Fix, you can make a style profile for your stylist to follow. Unlike Stitch Fix, it is an all or nothing deal. You cannot send back one top from the tote if you don't care for it; however, the founders of Golden Tote have explained that by not allowing constant returns, they can keep the overall item costs down. If you do not like your entire tote, you can send it back (you pay for shipping). I have found a fabulous closed Facebook group where Golden Tote lovers sell or trade clothes they don't like. After I followed this group for a few months, I decided to take the plunge and order my own Golden Tote.

What I also like about Golden Tote is that there are two options: a $149 (up to a $600 value) tote where you pick two items and they fill in with five or seven surprise items. Or you can also have a $49 (up to a $200 value) tote where you choose one item and they fill in with two or three surprise items. I really like that you get to pick one or two of the items, while the rest is still a surprise. You also create a style profile where you choose certain styles and can enter items you do not want.

In September, I ordered the $149 tote. I will absolutely not do this every month because there is never a reason that I need to spend $149 on clothes every single month. I ordered five days after the September totes were released, so a few items were sold out, but mostly there was great items in stock. I will say that one downside was the amount of time it took to ship (almost two weeks); however again, by not running a huge company that has a 24 hour turn-around, you are saving money in the long run. Also, let's be real. We're all spoiled by Amazon Prime. Not EVERYTHING needs to arrive at your house two minutes after you order it.

That said, I was still insanely excited when my tote arrived. As the name implies, my clothes came packaged in a golden tote. Reusable! Yay!

After briefly admiring the bag, I was super excited to see what I received. My two chosen items were on the bottom of the ribboned bundle, so I got to go through all the surprises first.


The first item in my tote was a Skies Are Blue blouse. It's super flowy while still flattering your body. I wore this to work and received so many compliments on it!

Skies Are Blue items usually start at $50.
[wrinkled because it was the end of a long day]

Underneath that was a Color Thread tee. This was super soft and could easily be dressed up or dressed down depending on what you pair with it. And I love plaid/flannel patterns for fall!

Color Thread tee most likely retails around $35.

My favorite item in the tote was the Puella Priddy pants. This is not something that I would've grabbed off a rack and tried on, but it was instant love. They feel like sweatpants. Actual real sweatpants, but the faux leather band around the waist makes them dressy. I felt so comfortable at work.

Puella items start at around $50 on Anthropologie.

My first chosen item was this dotted chiffon dress. I love it because it can be worn in just about any season (except for maybe these miserable winters we have but let's not talk about THOSE). It's super flowy and feminine. I made it work appropriate by throwing leggings on underneath and still thought it looked cute.

Available for $35 on the Golden Tote website, so we'll go with that for a price point.

My second chosen item was the LBD. I struggled with this because my closet is full of little black dresses, but this one looked unique. Because of how it's tailored, I hoped I could make this work and otherwise appropriate. However, it has a slit in the back, so I'll need to work on that. With a pair of opaque tights and a blazer, I think I could definitely pull it off for work. Even though it wasn't an easy transition to work, I still love it. It's very flattering [ignore my awkward pose] and versatile.

No idea of price point, but it's on the Golden Tote website for $35.

My final item was a sweater with dolman sleeves. I hate dolman sleeves. With a passion. I feel like a flapping elephant when I wear them, so this was a disappointment. The sweater also had a tear on the seam, so I emailed customer service. It's been sent back and will be replaced with a different surprise (hopefully a non-dolman surprise). Did it not have a tear, I would've put it up for sale or trade on the Golden Tote Facebook group. The top retails for about $40. I am guessing my two chosen items retail for more than $35, but I can't find an exact price point. So including the damaged top, I got about $250 worth of clothes for $149. Is it the biggest steal in the world? No, but I definitely LOVE what I got and didn't have to leave the house. I also got some items that I wouldn't have looked at in a store but now love, so this is exciting, too.

Do you do any subscription services? Which one? Ever consider signing up for any? I would definitely recommend Golden Tote. The October totes are now live on the site, so go take a look!

I linked you to my affiliate link, but these are all my opinions. I wish someone would give me free clothes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

China Dolls: A Novel
I enjoy books that do historical fiction so well that you don't even stop to think that it's historical fiction. In 1938 San Francisco, Grace, Helen and Ruby are Chinese-American girls who work as no-no girls. As with any threesome friendship, there is always one girl who isn't as close as the other two. Grace has come to San Francisco, running from her abusive father, and finds kinship with two more experienced girls. Ruby is running from her past and from the present. Helen lives with her parents and extended family in a compound in Chinatown and is running from the expectations placed upon her. Together and sometimes apart, the girls try to find their way in a world in turmoil as WWII begins.

Station Eleven: A novel
Sometimes dystopia is frustrating because you learn about the world immediately after a collapse, then it ends when things are just starting to seem okay. Station Eleven goes beyond that, interspersing 20 years after a new world began with the moments before the old world ended and the years afterward. It skips around from past to present and from person-to-person but did so fluidly and was a very enjoyable book. I did not want it to end.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
As the mother of a child who asks a LOT of questions, this book was perfect for our house. Answering some inane questions like "What would happen if everyone in the earth shined a laser pointer at the moon at the same time?" to some serious questions "What happens if the sun dies?" Although some of the questions had very involved scientific answers, they were still enjoyable to read and answered some questions that I've wondered about before myself!

What are you reading?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The [not at all] Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Giveaway

Winner is comment #2, Barb! Good job, Barb. In the meantime, check out the Alexander family study guide. Complete with thematic principles!

I have two absolute favorite children's books. One of them is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day [affiliate link]. I love Alexander. I empathize with Alexander. Because who hasn't had a very bad day that just gets continuously worse? So bad that you think about moving away, far away? Except that eventually you realize that bad days happen everywhere--even in Australia.

When I heard that there was going to be an Alexander movie, I called my mom because I was so excited. So when I received an email about receiving a prize pack giveaway, I couldn't wait! I am definitely taking my kids to see this one.
And because it's not a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for you, you can also enter to win your own prize pack.


The prize pack includes, as shown:
- Coffee mug
- Alligator stress toy
- Mini poster
- Green highlighter
- Reusable grocery bag

I am super excited about the poster! I love posters to hang in my classroom, especially when they're literature related (and yes, you can actually learn a great deal of figurative elements from children's literature).

To enter, all you need to do is let me know your favorite children's book. For those wondering? My other favorite book is I'll Fix Anthony[affiliate link]. As a younger child, I felt for Anthony's younger brother.

Giveaway ends Friday, October 3rd.
I received my own prize pack for hosting this giveaway, but all opinions are my own