Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"The Rules of Civility" Review

What is it with the books I have read this summer making me feel old?  I mean, I am only 31.  The characters in “The Rules of Civility” live through so much, and their various circumstances change so many times within the scope of the novel that by the end (or at least up to the epilogue) I just thought…wow.  You’re still younger than me. 

On to my review…


“The Rules of Civility” is a debut novel by Amor Towles, and my favorite of the summer, to date.  I thoroughly enjoyed his style of writing.  He’s not just a story-teller, like the authors of a good portion “talked-about” novels are today (I happen to enjoy those, too), but rather had a very individual and identifiable voice.  The very best part for me was the dialogue—witty, smart, and so effective.

The story is told from the perspective of Katey, a quite spirited and independent woman living in a boardinghouse, working as a secretary, and living it up after hours with her best friend and partner-in-crime, Eve.  They’ll put on their best dress and scrape enough change together for a drink, secure in the knowledge that they’ll find a handsome bachelor or two to fund the rest of their night out.  It is this way that they meet Tinker Grey, and the three are swept up into a series of glittering evenings in fancy bars and smoky jazz clubs.  That is, until the night when a chance event causes everything to drastically change.

Much of the plot seems to happen by chance, in the beginning, setting of a series of events that the characters must react and adapt to.  Katey, Tinker, and Eve all seem to hold their cards close to their chests, revealing only as much of themselves as is unavoidable, all the while believing that they understand the others completely.  This is a source of a good portion of conflict in the novel. 

“The Rules of Civility” is an even-handed story of high society…the charm, but the real people, and struggles behind it.  And while Katey does work her way up the social ladder, she is far from a social climber.  Rather, she works her own way up, which is of course the best part.  I will say there were a few spots where Katey did things I didn’t find believable and thought “Ugh.  This was written by a man.”  However, those spots were few and far between.

Not long into the novel, I realized I was picturing the entire thing in black and white, as if it were a movie with Rita Hayworth or Barbara Stanwyck.  I found that I like the New York of the late 1930’s more than I like the New York of today.  You get the feeling that you should be holding a cigarette in one hand (even if like me, you don’t smoke) and a cocktail in the other as you read this book, if it weren’t for the fact that it would leave you with no hands to hold the book in.

Happy Reading! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Year of the Gadfly" Review

Less than four weeks until the of summer, which means less than four weeks to finish my summer reading pile.  I thought I could do it, until I picked up 3 of my selections from the library and realized how LONG they all are.  We'll see.  I will be posting my review of "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles soon, and am working my way through "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."

On to my review of "The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller."  If you've read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

What it’s about:  Teenage Iris, a hopefully journalist who has been deeply affected by the loss of her best (and only) friend, has moved to a new town to begin school at Mariana Academy.  It seems Mariana is full of secrets, as are most of its students/faculty.   Aside from Iris, there is science teacher Mr. Kaplan, a Mariana alum with his own secret, troubled past.  Parts of “Gadfly” are told from the perspective of Lily and take place in the late 1990’s, a victim of bullying who was hiding her own secrets.  And then there is the resurfacing of Prisom’s Party, a once inactive secret society that sees themselves as moral watchdog vigilantes.  The boundaries between bully vs. victim, and right vs. wrong are muddled as Iris tries to unravel the complicated web and blow the cover off the party responsible for a string of disturbing rumors and bullying. 

What drew me in:  Prestigious prep school, eccentric characters (a “Marvelous Species of sorts) that all have some sort of secret, secret societies, and a plucky main character.

What it reminded me of:  “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Pessl, for starters.  This is partly because Jennifer Miller, author of “Gadfly” sent me a little message on Goodreads suggesting that I read her book because of my rating of “Special Topics.”  The two do have their similarities…dark mystery, prep school and cliques, clever main characters, etc.  The main character here, Iris, reminded me more of a combination of Veronica from “The Heathers” and Flavia de Luce from “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.”  Oh, and Iris’s science teacher, Mr. Kaplan…for me, sort of a Mr. Keating (of Dead Poet’s Society) wannabe.   Mr. Keating to students: “Carpe Diem!  Seize the Day!”  Mr. Kaplan to students:  “Embrace extremity!”

What worked for me:  The story is told from the point of view of three characters, which I enjoyed, especially when each of their stories began to merge.  “Gadfly” shifts back and forth from present time and a late 1990’s timeline, and Miller did a great job slowly revealing the many ways that they intersected.  (I also admit to feeling a bit old when I realized that the “past” storyline was around the time I was actually in high school.)  Miller pretty much nailed the unique affects the loss of a (close) peer has on a teen-ager, and certainly captured the teen-age angst.  The story shows what we all know from experience:  What happens to you in high school follows you long after you graduate.

What didn’t work for me:  I found myself wondering as I read if this was actually YA Fiction (which it is not), and there were just a few scenes that seemed a bit…gratuitous.  Not really a big deal, but they irked me in relation to Iris only being 14, and because they seemed totally unnecessary to the plot.  The resolution was wrapped up a bit too “neatly” for the dark tone of the rest of the novel.

I gave this one a 3 star rating on Goodreads.

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 24, 2012

High Five For Friday

Friday...I am so happy that you are here.  Linking up with From My Grey Desk Blog!

1.  Just started Season 1 of Mad Men...love it!  How did I take so long to catch on?
2.  Thank you, Martha Stewart, for teaching me how to fold a fitted sheet!  Life changing.
3.  Adorable note pad I found in the $ section of Michael's.  
4.  Taking advantage of the beautiful weather with some outdoor reading.
5.  One of my sweet readers gave me a "Leibster Award."  Check out her blog.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

30 with 30, Week 10

Here we go with 3 outfits for the last official week of the challenge with Lauren of From My Grey Desk Blog!  I missed a few weeks in between, and am determined to come up with my final few looks, so check back next Tuesday.

 Cardigan/Top/Shorts:  Forever 21
Jeans:  Rue La La
Sandals:  Target (1), Nine West (2)

Necklace:  Anthropologie
Tank: Target
Skirt:  American Eagle
Sandals:  Steve Madden


Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's the Little Things...

We hit a milestone around here this week.  My little guy (who from here on out I'll be referring to as "Steele," a nickname he earned recovering from a nasty fall as a baby) learned to pedal his tricycle.  This is big for several reasons, not the least of which is that it ends the back-breaking job of bending down to push him.

So today, we took a little tricycle ride.  By little, I mean approximately 25 feet, 50% of which was downhill.  Hard work for a 2 1/2 year old who just learned to pedal!  And there I was, walking beside him and cheering him on (from a standing-straight-up-non-back-breaking position, no less!), encouraging him to keep going and try to make it "all the way to the driveway!!"

He couldn't have cared less about how far he got, because he was too busy enjoying the ride.

After about three feet, he slowed to a stop.  As I reached out to give him a small nudge and get him going again, he said "No, Mommy.  Look!"  He climbed down and examined a tiny (by tiny I mean maybe 3/4 inch tall) root-like thing growing between the sidewalk cracks.  "Whose beanstalk is it?!"  (We've been watching "Mickey and the Beanstalk" lately.)  Steele examined the "beanstalk" for a few minutes, tugging on it and trying to make it grow, and then resumed his ride.

For about three feet that is.  This time he climbed off of the trike and noticed a slug.  This was the first slug he has ever seen.  He spent a few minutes just looking at it and it's gooey trail, cheering it to "Go!  Go, Slug!  Get to the grass!" before he realized just how slow that slug was moving and climbed right back on that trike.

As I'm encouraging him speed a long to make it to his destination, he is busy marveling at the little things along the way.  The little things I wouldn't have noticed without him pointing them out to me.

Thanks for the reminder, little guy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

30 with 30, Week 9

I was so excited this morning when I checked out From My Grey Desk Blog and saw that Lauren and Kate from The Small Things Blog chose me as their favorite look from last week.  Thanks!!

On to this week...two things to mention.

First, the lack of lipstick in any of these shots.  What can I say...there was a toddler sleeping in the room where every tube of my lipstick happened to be, and no way was I going to risk ending naptime for lipstick!

Second, I love, love, love the necklace I am wearing with two of these outfits.  It's from Simply Livly on Etsy.  Because it is a jersey knit, you can easily tie it to adjust the length.  I love their necklaces...check them out!

Grey Top:  Forever 21
Tank:  Target
Jeans:  Rue La La
Skirt:  Forever 21
Sandals:  Target
Necklaces:  First- Anthropologie, Second-  Simply Livly @Etsy.com

Cardigan:  Forever 21
Tank:  Target
Belt:  H&M
Sorry for the horrible picture quality on this one!  Not sure what happened...but I am eagerly awaiting my new camera so I  can stop relying on the one on my phone!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

30 with 30...Better Late Than Never!

Unfortunately, I only had time for two outfits this week since we are still working on settling in from our move last week.  And I had an "extra" sneak in for one of the shots (p.s...he is wearing snow boots in the summer because he is a fireman)!

Top:  Target
Jeans:  Rue La La
Skirt:  Forever 21
Belt: H&M
Sandals:  Target


It's not too late to get in on the challenge!

Friday, August 3, 2012

High Five for Friday!

Hooray for Friday!  This week has been a crazy one, so I am super happy that it's just about the weekend, especially since we have an exciting week ahead.  But, before we get there, here are five ways I feel blessed this week:

1.  The reason I have been MIA in the blogosphere this week:  we moved.  Moving is never fun.  Throw in a toddler, and you get extra-crazy.
2.  Anyone remember this show?  Well, they have the whole series on DVD.  Turns out our little one loves it...which gives us an excuse to relive our childhood Saturday mornings.
3.  Major high five for my brother who was promoted to Sargeant yesterday!  I'm a super proud big sis!

4.  This was at the bottom of the page in my "Parents" magazine (Judy on Duty section).  It made me really happy to see someone in a non-allergy related publication to say this.  As an allergy mom, I can understand that food-related regulations can be annoying to non-allergic families.  But...I cannot understand why so many people have to communicate their annoyance with eye-rolling, nastiness, and without compassion.  We just want to keep our kids alive.  Thanks to "Parents" for pointing this out!
5.  You never know what you'll come across while moving and re-organizing.  Here, we have a poem from my obviously melodramatic 9 year old self that my mom must have held onto as a laugh.  I don't remember why on earth I was so upset about our baseball stadium closing (in favor of a brand new one).  I do find two things about this extra-funny.  One: I wasn't really an exceptionally big baseball fan and rarely went to baseball games.  We watched them on tv...not in the stadium.  Two:  My teacher's comment, "The closing of this stadium will cause you much pain, won't it?"

Linking up with Lauren at From My Grey Desk!

What were the highlights of your week?

Friday, July 27, 2012

High Five for Friday!

After an extremely busy week, I am extra glad that it's finally Friday!
Linking up with Lauren at From My Grey Desk to share my highlights of the week:

There's a little fish pond outside of a restaurant right by our church.  My little one gets super excited to see the fish as soon as church is over.  It also gets him to sit quietly for the service...no small feat for a 2 year old!

Family trip to the zoo!

Last Saturday my hubby and I celebrated our fifth anniversary.  

Badger lip balm...It has taken me months and months to find a lip balm or chapstick that doesn't have something that my son is allergic to in it.  Finally one that is safe for me to wear!

Our DIY light box.  This is an awesome idea I saw on a blog that I read religiously.  It is amazing how much more fun our light box makes our daily activities.  (Also amazing is how much longer it holds a toddler's attention!)  I'll be doing a post on this next week.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

"The Weird Sisters"

Review-- “The Weird Sisters” by Eleanor Brown


I love books.  I love books about books and I love books with characters that love books.  And the family at the center of “The Weird Sisters,” well, they love books, too.  While the Dad is a Shakespearean professor (hence his daughters all being named after characters in the Bard’s plays) and quotes Shakespeare for his part in just about any conversation, no one in the family is a book snob.  They read just about any book, without discrimination, mainly because it happens to be closest to them.  With the exception of the works of Shakespeare, we aren’t informed of a single title that any of the characters reads throughout the novel, and it seems to be because it doesn’t matter to them what they are reading, so long as they are reading something.

The original “weird sisters” hail from Macbeth, and here, at the center of the novel, we have our own “weird sisters,” who will explain to you, early on in the book, that “weird” to Shakespeare doesn’t mean anything close to what “weird” means to us.  For the first time since reaching independence and taking their own paths, the three sisters are all home together.  They’d tell anyone who asked that it was because their Mom has breast cancer, but the truth is that they each have their own reason for returning and staying.  We have Rose, locked into her sense of responsibility as the eldest daughter, refusing to leave out of the certainty that the family would fall apart without her.  But the truth is, something else is keeping here there.  And then there is Cordy, who clearly wants to be by her mother’s side although there is no denying that something else really forced her into giving up her nomadic lifestyle.  And finally, Bean, who for the first time not only can but must leave her carefully created life in New York.  Caring and dealing with their mother’s illness serves as a backdrop as the women each struggle to overcome the Shakespearean idea of what makes them “wyrd,” and instead realize that people can, in fact, change, and make a life for themselves rather than letting it happen to them.   

An interesting aspect to the novel is that it has a first person plural point of view, meaning it is actually narrated by all three sisters as one voice.  And while we learn, over the course of the novel, each individual character’s personal truth, we get the impression of all three sisters as one.  Interesting, because isn’t it true that sometimes our family see things in us; our true motivations, fears, and feelings, that we try to keep neatly wrapped and hidden away?  Your siblings will tell you the bottom line, point blank, which is that the collective voice of the sisters does for the readers in each circumstance.

Overall, the story is an interesting exploration of the complicated relationships of sisters and the family as a whole.  Truthfully, it didn’t suck me in and while I didn’t mind the characters, at times I had a hard time finding a reason to really be rooting for them.  I wanted it to work out; I just didn’t care all that much, or maybe I knew that, predictably, it would.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

30 with 30

It's Tuesday again, and I just barely managed to get my 3 new outfits in before getting the little guy down for his nap!

Here we go...
Dress:  Mossimo/Target
Sandals:  Target

Cardigan:  Forever 21
Belt:  H&M
Shoes:  Nine West

Top:  The Loft
Skirt:  H&M
Shoes:  Nine West

It's not to late to join in on the challenge!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

30 with 30: Week 4

The 30 with 30 challenge is in it's fourth week, although it's only Week 2 for me since I got a late start!
I love that this challenge is already pushing me to think of new ways to wear things I already have.  What it is NOT doing for me is making me think "I have so many clothes, I don't need to shop ever again."  However...it is at least making my desire to shop much more focused.  Instead of just shopping for a cute top and then figuring out something to wear it with, I'm more likely to look for something like a great belt that would give me several more outfit combinations.  Anyway, here are this weeks 3 looks...

Necklace:  Ebay
Cardigan/Skirt:  American Eagle
Sandals:  Steve Madden

Necklace:  Anthropologie
Top/Skirt:  American Eagle
Sandals:  Steve Madden

Necklace:  Ebay
Cardigan:  American Eagle
Jeans:  RueLaLa.com

Want to give the 30 with 30 challenge a try?  Check it out here!  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: "The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Crossing the first title off of my "Summer Reading" list!  Definitely a good one.  Up next:  The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.

The Language of Flowers centers around Victoria, a just emancipated eighteen year old that has been hardened by a lifetime of being passed around through the foster care system.  From the time of her abandonment, Victoria has had little experience with security, familial love and positive relationships.  In a sense, Victoria has almost always been “on her own” and this is just the first time she has no one directing her next movement.  She doesn’t have a family, a plan, hopes or dreams, but she does have her connection to flowers.  Homeless, she spends her days creating a garden in an untended section of a park until, driven by hunger and necessity, she uses her talent to secure a job with a local florist.  Here, Victoria’s boundaries are tested.  She is uncomfortable with opening up, gets ill at the slightest touch, and has no desire to be attached to anyone or anything permanent.  Anything that is, aside from her flowers.  And suddenly, in the form of a young man at a flower market, it all begins to change.  She is forced to consider a future, but also to face the secrets of her past.

The story opens on the day of Victoria’s emancipation, and alternates between momentous moments of her childhood and her current struggles to overcome her past, forgive herself, and learn to love.  Diffenbaugh’s history as a foster parent lends great authenticity to the characters and their complicated relationships.  I found her writing to be very real, and at times raw.  She doesn’t hold back on showing the good and the bad of her characters in order to win the reader’s approval of them.  This is especially true of Victoria.  You won’t always like her…in fact there were a few times when I was reading that I wanted to look away.  But, if you’re like me, you will always root for her.  I think it’s because underneath it all, we can sense that she’s doing her best with what she has…it’s just that what she has isn’t much. 

And then there are the flowers.  Flowers are to this book what New York is to Sex and the City.  The story would be impossible to tell without them.  Diffenbaugh is well versed in the use of flowers to communicate in Victorian times, which I found fascination.  From the beginning the flowers are critical in understanding who Victoria is.  Where Victoria doesn’t “get” people…or herself for that matter, she “gets” flowers.  They become her key to learning to communicate honestly, to understanding others, and to making new beginnings.

One additional note:  Vanessa Diffenbaugh co-founded the Camellia Network to support children “aging out” of the foster care system.  Check out her website…the statistics are staggering.  www.camellianetwork.org 

Have you read The Language of Flowers?  What did you think? 

Friday, July 13, 2012

High Five for Friday

Happy Friday!

5 Highlights from my week:

1.  My silly toddler:  "Mommy!  Look at me!"  I can dump my food on the floor and balance the bowls on my feet!  

2.  An early high five for lunch with my bestie today!

3.  I woke up on Thursday and my extremely 1980's alarm clock told me it was 8:30.  Which meant for the first time in a week we got more than 4-5 hrs of sleep!

4.  My J.Crew-ish necklace came from ebay, rounding out my 30 items for the 30 with 30 challenge!

5.  Annie's Artisan Treats Kettle Corn.  I found this at Target.  So.  Delicious.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

30 with 30 Round 1

Not exactly week one of the 30 with 30 challenge, as I am starting a few weeks behind. Here are my first three outfits:
Dress:  Express
Belt:  Forever 21
Sandals: Steve Madden

 Dress:  Express
Necklace:  simplylivly @etsy
Wedges:  Target

Top:  Nordstrom Rack
Scarf:  Forever 21
Sandals:  Vince Camuto

Sorry for the horrible picture quality...my son broke my camera yesterday, so I had to make due with my phone for today!